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How Did You First Hear the Words, You Have Cancer?

How did you first hear the words, you have cancer?

Did you first hear them in person?

Did you hear them via a phone call?

How did you “want” to hear the news, and were your wishes honored?

Without a doubt, I prefer hearing unpleasant medical news over the phone.

I would much rather be at home. This way, I don’t have to worry about the right way to act or the right things to say. I don’t have to fake it and put up a brave front pretending to not be scared shitless.

I prefer not to have the face-to-face discussion about bad news immediately. I like to be in the privacy of my own home, give things a chance to sink in, allow myself time to absorb it and fall apart in private if need be, and then talk with my doctor later when I am more ready and hopefully able to think more clearly.

But that’s me. You might feel entirely different.

The day I heard those words, you have a cancer, I was home alone with my dogs. After my Tuesday biopsy, I was told I would get the results the following Thursday. This is what the doctor Dear Hubby and I had originally met with to discuss my highly suspicious tumor had told us. He said he’d call me himself. I believed him.

Why wouldn’t I?

“That Thursday” arrived and I spent the entire day waiting. And waiting. You can read the details of that day here or in my memoir.

Finally, when I could no longer stand it, I called my doctor only to find out he had left for the day. WTF? He just went home to have a nice quiet dinner with his wife and kids??

I never saw or heard from that particular doctor again.

Instead, I had to pry the words out of a different doctor who really didn’t want to tell me, which in hindsight is understandable. After all, I wasn’t his patient.

Later, I read the notes via my patient portal (yes, you can read all kinds of interesting things about yourself if you have access) that he had written about our conversation that day. He called me angry. Hell yes, I was angry. I think I had a right to be angry. I was waiting to learn if I had cancer or not for crying out loud. And no one called me as I had been promised.

Who in her right mind wouldn’t be angry?

But the point of this post is that it’s probably a good idea to talk with your doctor(s) about how you’d like to receive bad, or good for that matter, medical news.

After all, doctors are not mind readers.

If you’re like me, you might prefer getting test results over the phone. If you prefer a face-to-face conversation, that likely can be arranged.

Your needs and wishes should come first.

If you are a doctor delivering news (any kind) over the phone, I would suggest when you do make that call, to first ask your patient this simple question:  Is this a good time to talk?

I received a bad-news-sort-of-call from my oncologist during the holiday season while I was Christmas shopping at the mall. Granted, I should not have answered my phone without first checking caller ID, but I assumed it was Dear Hubby or one of my kids. Wrong. I also should have told her it was not a good time for me to talk, but I didn’t think of that at the time.

Trust me, the mall is not the ideal place to hear distressing news.

Bottom line is, there is no perfect time or perfect way to receive tough-to-hear medical news. But your needs and preferences should come first. Your wishes should be honored whenever possible.

After all, you are the patient and what you want matters most, or at least it should.

But first your doctor needs to know what your wishes are, and it’s up to you to let her/him know what they are.

How did you first hear the words, you have cancer?

Do you prefer to hear medical-type news or test results via a phone call or in person?

Does you doctor follow your wishes?

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This was my journal entry "that day."

I received the news via a phone call. This was my journal entry “that day.”

15 Random Facts, Round Two, & Another Blogging Challenge!
I Feel Lost...

Sally Bailey

Wednesday 24th of July 2019

I was told of my invasive ductal cell carcinoma grade 3 on the phone while I was driving, by my primary doctor's nursing assistant, not even an RN. I did not understand it at all. I asked to talk to the doctor and she said he was not up to date on breast cancer. I was also told to get an appointment with a specialist asap. It was during spring break and she told me many specialists are on vacation. The office did find me an oncologist. After visiting my primary care physician face to face I told him of my disappointment. I told him I would have expected a call from him. I never returned to him and was able to find another primary care physician. I will NEVER forget that life changing phone call. This journey began in March of 2018.


Thursday 25th of July 2019

Sally, I'm sorry you had to receive that life-changing phone call. I didn't expect a call from my PCP. I never even thought about that. I did expect one from the first surgeon I had met with because he told me he'd call, and then he didn't. And yeah, that phone call is not one a person forgets. Thank you for sharing.

Claudia Schmidt

Wednesday 24th of April 2019

I heard it from my OBGYN who told me that the radiologist had Just told him. Not sure why she didn’t tell me, but passed it on to him. I sat down really hard and picked up a pen and started to write down everything he said because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to remember any of it. I got a lot of scary breast cancer news over the phone - heard about my need for a mastectomy that way as well. Not my favorite choice but there’s not really any other way I think I would really have preferred to hear any of it.


Sunday 15th of October 2017

I have access to my medical records online so read the biopsy report a couple days before I was called. Kind of takes the wind out of your sails to read it online and be all alone. But I'm a very stoic person, so I soon got over the shock and prepared myself for what needed to be done.


Saturday 22nd of April 2017

I had the suspicious mammogram in may 2016. I was ushered into the ultrasound room whici took forever. a very young new dr got my husband out of the waiting room to tell us about the suspicious spot. It must have already looked like cancer even then because the dr looked concerned and ultimately I ended up making her cry with me which did not make me feel very confident. I was at akron general breast center in ohio and they wisked me into an office and scheduled a biopsy right away and I met with my surgeon (Mary Murray, she is great). Unlike you, my surgeon actually did call me herself to tell me I was stage 1a and everything would be okay (umbrella, how do you really know that?). I was at work doing a special evening project, trying to impress my boss so it actually helped I think because I focused on work at that moment. Then I went to my office for break and called my husband and scared the hell out of him. His mom died from breast cancer Mets in 2010. I cried all the way home during my long commute. My experience since then has been that I feel luckier than most because I didn't have long rads (my surgeon was able to do mammosite) and no chemo for me except that I have been on arimidex and the hot flashes and moods and dried up vag suck. Most of my medical people have been good to me but a couple of them sucked (I told them) and my current oncologist seems unconcerned with my side effects. I'm only 48 and I feel like these pills are taking me on a speeding train to age 75. Anyhow, that's how I found out. I was so scared when the young dr started crying. I was so scared when I was told they were going time inject blue dye into my nipple (most patients tolerate it well, but I might call you a mfer) I was so scared when the mammosite cath kept weeping my own body fluid all over the place (no one mentioned it would do that) and for some reason laying on the radiation table was so scary and degrading almost. Everyone runs out and leaves you and hides behind a 3 ft thick door and watches you on a monitor. You're in there all alone. I would have never made it through 6 wks of regular rads. I have a high chance for recurrence I guess. I'm trying to do what I can but mostly I just pray I never have to go back.

Gaye Pietrocola

Sunday 14th of August 2016

After having a biopsy for some "suspicious calcifications", they scheduled me for a follow up appointment at the breast center. I thought it was odd that they would tell me the results instead of my gynecologist who sent me for the mammogram that started this all in the first place. My husband and I went to the center and we are put in a room with a "nurse navigator" and the radiologist (who was a total asshole). Actually, they were both jerks. The first words out of the nurse navigator were "since you have cancer, we need to discuss your options". WTF??!!! That is how they told me. I was furious!!! It was not their place to tell me nor tell me like that. She immediately starts telling me what I need to do and makes all kinds of appointments for me. I was in shock and ANGRY! We left to go home and I called my gynecologist who was equally as angry as I was. It was her place, not theirs to tell me. This nurse navigator (who was cold and harsh) told me that she was going to manage all my follow up care from there on. I called her back later and told her that she was going to have NOTHING to do with my care from there on and she needed to butt out of my case and never, ever call me again. I then contacted the manager of the breast screening center and told them the same. I don't know how this nurse got to this position of responsibility in a patient's care but she was not going to run my treatment. As you can tell, I still get mad about this and it's been over a year. To this day, I still want to walk into her office and yell at her in person.


Wednesday 17th of August 2016

Gaye, Gosh, that was not the way to find out. I don't blame you for being so upset. I hope she received tons of feedback so she could learn from the mistake. Good for you for giving her a piece of your mind! Thank you for sharing.

Gaye Pietrocola

Sunday 14th of August 2016

As an added note - I love my gynecologist, kind of liked the surgeon but especially adored the reconstructive physician who did the final fix - he went above and beyond to get me exactly the care I needed after my mastectomy and the results were amazing.

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