Breaking up is hard to do (not really)

My oncologist has kept me alive. The past nine months have been the hardest months of my life and I’m glad she was there to guide me through some of it. But it’s time to move on.

I think she now sees me as a one of those “bad” patients. A patient with the audacity to question a doctor. I’m not questioning her, I just have questions, and sometimes there are no answers. She is an expert on cancer and I have nothing but respect for her knowledge, but I am an expert in me. I think a lot of doctors tend to forget this with their patients.

She asks questions about my health and then dismisses anything I report because it’s not life-threatening. Bloody nose? She tells me that the cancer isn’t in my brain and I should go see an ENT if it doesn’t stop. Eyelids swell? She says there is no cancer in my eyes and that it’s not like I’m going to die from puffy eyes. Joints are swollen? She says they’re not, even when I show her my rings don’t fit. I want to get blood work because I’ve been more fatigued? She refuses to order it because I was only “a little bit anemic” five months ago (!) when she last checked my blood counts. Left hand has pins and needles? She say it’s probably my spine, then she tells me I don’t have cancer in my spine. I never thought I had cancer in my spine, or my brain, or my eyes, but thanks, now the thoughts nag me. I still have all these side effects with no explanations.

She asks questions, but doesn’t really listen. and I can’t have a doctor that doesn’t listen, who’s only in it during the shit storm and then disappears when it gets real and perhaps boring for her.

Every question I ask seems to rub her the wrong way, as if I’m challenging her. I’ve said over an over that I am an investigator, a researcher. I read. I search. I want to learn. She says I should just stop worrying.

Six months ago she sent me off to get a mammogram because she was convinced there was a lump at my mastectomy scar. (No one EVER wants to hear that cancer is growing while actively getting chemo.) Turns out it was just scar tissue. I can’t help but think that if I reported having any of my current side effects six months ago she would have taken them more seriously. Now that I’m out of the woods, my side effects are suddenly meaningless to her.

The fact is thousands of women have the side effects I’m having. If she told me just once that, yes, she’s heard other women having some of these side effects, I’d feel a little better. But not once has she said it. I just don’t get it.

This isn’t technically a breakup because it’s a business relationship that we have. Well, if her business is saving my life, then I no longer need her services. Thanks. Looks like I’m going to live. But I’m not done with treatment, so I need a new doctor, one who sees her or his business as helping me to live as a whole person and not just as a patient whose life needs to be saved.

End result? I’m switching doctors. I’ll be finishing my treatment at our dinky sweet friendly small town oncology office, where I’m not just a number and not just a life to be saved, but a whole person. Let’s see how that goes.





5 responses

  1. In both Ayurveda and in Traditional Chinese Medicine the relationship between healer and healed is considered an important part of the equation. I applaud your choice to find a better fit. The ancient wisdom agrees totally.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How sad and frustrating that after coming through the worst 9 months of your life that you have to deal with being treated this way. I am proud of you for making the choice to find a doctor who will listen to your concerns and treat you with the respect that you deserve. I have been blessed to have such a doctor in Dr. Bayliss. I told him I was concerned about the number of PVC’s I was having. At my next appointment (3 weeks later) he told me he had done some research and found 1 other case that mirrored mine. I was shocked and so happy that he had listened. He always makes us feel like we’re the only patient he has. I hope that you can find someone like him.


  3. Oh, Leah! You definitely need a new doctor. When my father started his cancer treatments years and years ago, he had a doctor who wouldn’t answer his questions and at the end of the appointment, my father said, “It was nice meeting you. I won’t be back.” And he found another doctor who was absolutely wonderful. So many in the medical profession only treat the disease/symptoms. They don’t see us as whole people. And it is up to us to advocate for ourselves and each other. I am so glad you are doing that for yourself. You are so strong and I admire you so!


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