Get a Second Opinion: Phyllis’ Story
The C-word! I hate it! I’ve heard it four times in my life, and I never want to hear it again.
I remember it so clearly. The first time I heard that word applied to me, I was just 44 years old, living in a suburb of Atlanta. I had an excellent management job with Xerox. My second husband and I had been married for just four years. I had three children, one recently married, one in college, and one in high school. While visiting my mom in Pennsylvania, I had my gynaecology checkup and mammogram with the doctor that delivered my daughters. Since my mammogram showed an area that demanded further examination, a surgeon performed a biopsy the following week. Now, I was waiting for the results in the cold examination room, wearing one of those gowns that don’t cover everything.
I didn’t suspect a problem; after all, the nurse didn’t invite my husband to join us. So, I thought it’s probably nothing or just a cyst, remove it, and I am done with it.
Swish, the door opens, and the doctor enters, looking at my chart as he walks. He was a short chubby man in his early 60’s with a serious look. He peered over his little metal-rimmed reading glasses perched on the middle of his nose. Finally, he looked at me with a serious yet matter-of-fact attitude and said, “Your biopsy report shows cancer; when do you want to schedule cutting them off?”
It was a lot to comprehend, especially when my husband was still sitting in the waiting room.
I was stunned by his coldness. He didn’t appear to give one thought to how I felt or that perhaps my husband should join us. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts. How would I tell my husband? He had lost his mom to abdominal cancer when he was only seven years old, and then in his first marriage, he lost his three-year-old son to the same type of cancer. I wondered how Steve would handle this news. How would my mom deal with it? She was a recent widow. And my daughters, would they be afraid they would lose me who, as a single mom, had always been there for them? Would they fear they would inherit the gene?
I breathed deeply, and the person who had been a single mom for ten years and an in-control corporate manager took over my mind and body. As an always prepared person, I had had lunch with my friend Mary Ellen several days before the biopsy. She was a breast cancer survivor and had reconstructive surgery. At the time, there was a lot of controversy about reconstruction and breast implants. Also, there were still many HIV and AIDS-related cases associated with blood transfusions.
In my role at Xerox, I spoke to senior executives and customers. So, my inner confidence about my appearance was important to me. I wanted reconstruction. My first step was to ask about the level of cancer. Fortunately, the stage was low and it was not invasive. The next question for the doctor was if he coordinated with a plastic surgeon, as I had learned from Mary Ellen, there must be enough skin left to construct new breasts.
With that question, the doctor became even colder and looked down his nose as he said, “Be very grateful young lady, that I will save your life. Don’t even think about reconstruction at this point. If you don’t get it, so what! You’ll live.”
My thoughts turned inward. I thought, “I am not just a body to be cut and stitched. I am a spirit that lives in this body.” His recommendation just didn’t feel right. So, I said, “Before I make any decisions, I want a second opinion!”
The doctor got red in the face and yelled at me, “You are very foolish. This is my professional opinion of your medical condition!” He proceeded to write on my chart in red ink. He noted that the staff should not treat me even if an emergency occurred after surgery elsewhere. Finally, he stated that I was a non-compliant patient because I did not follow his recommendation.
I was not deterred. I said, “I’d like my records, please.”
This blog is published with the permission of Peggie Sherry, co-author of Breast Cancer, Tips and Tricks from Two Survivors. To support their work, you can purchase a copy of their book here. Proceeds from the book sales support Faces of Courage a cancer patient support non-profit organization dedicated to providing, free of charge, programs emphasizing practical education; life coping strategies; and improved self-esteem; through non-threatening, engaging, and recreational outings and overnight camps.
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