Upon reading a recent @BCSM post about results obtained in a research survey in which breast cancer patients were asked how they preferred to hear news of their cancer diagnosis and other ongoing medical information and/or test results (thank you, @BCSM, for wanting our input), I started thinking more about this and wondering how YOU received the news about YOUR cancer diagnosis. Did you hear it in person? Did you hear it over the phone? How did you “want” to hear it 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. Plus, 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 had been told I would get the results on 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?
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. 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. Doctors are not mind readers after all. 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?
Featured red phone image via NATE STEINER/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS