D-Day: Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

You went for your follow-up visit. The mass is malignant. Right now you may still be in shock, this may soon turn to fear. If you found the lump yourself and have waited a week or longer to get any answers you are probably in a full-blown panic. There are so many questions. Where do you turn? Where do you run? Well, take a minute, take a breath, and do a little bit of research. It could save your life and maybe your breasts.

In the terror of this moment, you probably want to run to the nearest oncologist for your prognosis. That’s fine and good, time is of course of the essence when it comes to cancer treatment. But please, do not feel chained to the first doctor to whom you are referred. Your primary care physician will probably make an appointment for you and you should keep this appointment, but in the mean time sit down with your biopsy report and get in touch with someone who really cares about your survival.

I am not saying your oncologist will not care about you. But- he may care more about the dollars he will make off of you than he does about whether your husband is a widower next year. Oncologists are the highest paid physicians in our country, they get paid whether you live or die, and many (not all) only see billing cycles, not patients. Perhaps to some, distance is the only way to deal with harsh realities of cancer.

I have seen doctors turn their backs on patients with a poor prognosis, so I implore you to find someone who will fight until what may seem the bitter end. Time and time again, there have been patients who have been given heavy doses of narcotics to keep them comfortable, and nothing else. What one doctor sees as hopeless, another sees as a new challenge he or she must meet to save a life. In my husband’s practice I am astounded by how many survivors in full remission were told by their first oncologist to go home and die peacefully.

My suggestion is for you to contact the American Cancer Society. Experience has told us that they are the most well-informed, accessible, and companionate advocate resource out there. They will send you information on all the cancer services available in your area and these will be vital to your family in the months to come. When bills start coming in you will need many of these resources to assist you with the burden of these expenses (do not expect your insurance to cover it all, even the best ones do not).

Next you are going to contact Cancer Treatment Centers of America and ask for a list of the top oncologists in the specific field of your diagnosis, so please have your biopsy report handy. I know there are a lot of big words on that report that you cannot understand. A year from now you will probably be an expert, but you do not need to fret about this. You can simply spell the diagnosis for the operator and they will know what it means.

Ready for some good news? With this list in hand, you are now in charge of your future, which is important if you want to have one. Once you have the facts you can make an informed decision on who will manage your treatment most aggressively. This is a fight for your life, so you need a warrior to run the campaign. Just remember, this is your fight and you are in charge!

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