I met a couple of people who have changed their Oncologist recently. Both were newly diagnosed. One person felt that their experience was just a simple personality clash, that the Oncologist didn’t like them, the other person didn’t like the way the Oncologist was quite dismissive when the person tried to explore all options after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer. When the person asked the heartbreaking question of how long without treatment, the reply was curt and succinct – three to six months. This person still felt well as the cancer hadn’t caused any major symptoms yet. The family were upset and horrified that the Oncologist could be so blunt. Obviously I wasn’t in the room with them and am only receiving the news second hand so I can’t comment on the Oncologist BUT this is what the patient felt, and the impression the family left with was that the Oncologist didn’t care or show any sympathy when giving this news. In my view they were right to change.
I have being lucky with my Oncologist. I have alluded to him before as he has become part of our family’s lives for eighteen years. Always there in the background, visited three or four times a year, called upon if worried about a new ache/pain/lump/bump (admittedly that was more in the early years). He never dismissed my concerns but always did a full physical, check the latest issue and requested (rarely) scans if he felt I needed them. I remember another patient of his saying that no matter how bad the news is you always feel better after coming out of his office. That is so true. He didn’t use the word cancer when I was diagnosed with my recurrence. He rang me at home and just said something akin to ” there were a few cells “. He included me in the dialogue by explaining and discussing what he feels was the best way forward. He never skirts around the situation but somehow manages to make it all seem ok. He offers slivers of hope when the darkness is descending. He tells me the options that are still there for me. I could go on but I am sure you get the gist. I have said this before when I was recovering from my mastectomy someone mentioned an Oncologist near me that I could attend and I was horrified. My Oncologist is part of my life, he knows my hubby, he hasn’t met my children yet but he has seen photos of them. He is the reason that I am here to attend the important life events that I am so grateful to have – Communions, Confirmations, family gatherings etc.
The relationship between a patient and their Oncologist is probably one of the most important doctor-patient relationships to have as unknowingly starting off on the surreal world of cancer treatments, he or she will become part of the fabric of a person’s life for hopefully a long time. The reason I am writing this is because of a thoughtful article on an Oncologist’s perspective of caring for patients and on delivering bad news. It resonated with me as it reminded me of my dear Oncologist. It is indisputable that most Oncologists have the knowledge and skills necessary to be excellent in their field but the added skills of compassion, good communication and empathy differentiate the wheat from the chaff.
Now that I am feeling reasonably well again, my Oncologist has faded into the background again but I know that if needed we will get down to business.