How long should a cancer survivor continue to see their oncologist?

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I naively thought that I would have the same doctor for the rest of my life, but I didn’t.

About a year after being treated by the same doctor, I noticed that our relationship was starting to change. He recommended that I add aromatase inhibitors to my daily regimen. Following his advice, I tried one and had negative results. Reporting these to his office, another was recommended. I tried it too, and had even worse results.

After three attempts at taking various medications, I decided to stop taking the hormone medication. When I shared the decision with my oncologist, his attitude towards me changed. At subsequent appointments, I found out that he was adamant about my medication and was told that if I didn’t choose to comply, I had to find a new doctor.

It didn’t take long to find a new oncologist, and for five years I have been with the same doctor. I was thrilled when he asked for my advice as we worked together to develop a care plan. He seemed to appreciate my contribution and said, “It’s your body. You should have the final say on what happens to him.

It took great comfort to me to know that we were a team working for my long term survival. But earlier this year, unbeknownst to me, that doctor moved. I was unaware of his move until one day, several months later, I received an email notification warning me that I had an appointment with a provider that I had never met.

By contacting their office, I expressed my concern. They apologized and I decided to give the new doctor a chance. I thought he must be a good doctor if he was on the staff at the cancer treatment center. I decided to check it out before the visit. I have read rave reviews online that he is a good listener and puts patients at ease. Although the reviews seemed to indicate he was a trustworthy doctor, I was nervous. This gentleman didn’t know anything about me other than information he might have gleaned from the last oncologist’s notes. I couldn’t help but wonder how long he would have to go through this information before my appointment.

Upon entering the facility, I was delighted to find that the nursing staff had remained the same. I have become friends with many of them over the past few years. When it was time to go to the exam room, I felt my heart rate quicken. I didn’t know why I was so hesitant. Normally I was a very optimistic person, but for some reason I didn’t feel good about meeting the new doctor.

A few minutes after entering the room, I heard a knock on the door and before I had a chance to say, “Come in”, the doctor opened the door. He didn’t greet me with words but stuck his fist out at me. A few seconds passed before my mind understood why he had done this. “Oh,” I thought, “he wants me to punch him,” which I did quickly.

The doctor was blunt and arrogant in his words and demeanor. I felt uncomfortable and worried. I didn’t feel like he was listening even though he had asked a series of questions and I had answered. I brought some physical issues to his attention, but instead of sitting down with me and discussing it, he ignored me, turned to his scribe and said, “Schedule an ultrasound for him, an MRI and a PET ”, then he left the chamber. Sitting there with my mouth wide open, I watched the scribe follow suit.

I sat on the examination table in my little half-open front dress for a few minutes before realizing he wasn’t coming back. I got dressed and walked out of the room. Not a single member of staff approached to say goodbye or give further instructions. It was then that I made the decision to seek another doctor. I felt I deserved better than that.

How long should a person keep their oncologist? This is not an easy question to answer.

When initially diagnosed with cancer, a patient usually receives a personalized treatment plan. Often in the first year, the doctor will closely monitor the person who schedules visits as frequently as every three months. The following year, depending on the person’s condition, treatment schedule and other factors, the visits may be a little more spread out.

In my case, the second year I saw the oncologist every six months and this pattern repeated until I hit the five-year mark after diagnosis. At that time I was told that I would be seen every year and have been for a few years.

As a survivor who is doing well now, the annual visits have been wonderful. I feel like I’m always under the watchful eye of a doctor while still being able to enjoy life to the fullest, but for some with cancer this scenario may not be the case.

With advanced breast cancer, some women will need to continue treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy in order to keep the cancer at bay. These treatments can produce bothersome side effects that require constant communication with a healthcare professional.

The follow-up care after breast cancer can seem endless, but it’s important to remember that a good oncologist is always looking for evidence of a possible recurrence. That’s why it’s important to find an oncologist who you feel comfortable with.

Although my visit to the designated oncologist did not go well, I knew that I did not have to continue treating with him. I did my homework and found other oncologists near me. There were several specializing in breast cancer care and I found one with glowing credentials. After reading reviews online and chatting with the staff in his office, I felt confident about making an appointment.

It is not easy to be transferred from one doctor to another. While we have no control over whether a doctor leaves his office, moves out of town, or finds a job elsewhere, we are people – not balls that can be thrown. Relationships with any health care provider are important, but for the person with cancer it is essential that we feel safe with our doctors.

Although a person may assume that they will have the same oncologist during treatment, it may not work that way. Patients have rights and responsibilities regarding their care, and this includes feeling comfortable with their provider. It is important to weigh all the options.

Don’t get off the ship just because something is wrong with you, but if there is a legitimate reason to seek help elsewhere, please do so. Your body is yours. You have the right to the best health care available.

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