My “Revolving Door of Oncologists”

The other day I met with oncologist number five. Yes, that’s right, number five. If I didn’t know better, I might think there was a problem with me and I don’t mean cancer!

Seriously though, changing oncologists isn’t easy. Cancer patients can become quite attached to their oncologists.

This relationship with an oncologist is somewhat like the one a woman usually develops with her obstetrician. In both cases there are many doctor appointments. In both cases there is a genuine bond that forms during an emotional, often times frightening time period of one’s life. A dependency based on deep trust develops.

There might very well be a feeling of deep disappointment, even abandonment, if your obstetrician is unable for whatever reason to be the one delivering your bundle of joy. This happened to me twice. Likewise there also might be a feeling of disappointment when one’s preferred/original oncologist is no longer around or available for whatever reason.

Life is an ongoing timeline of adaptations.

I vividly remember the very first meeting I had with oncologist number one. Imagining I needed an oncologist in the first place seemed unfathomable. It some ways it still does. It was almost like an out of body experience at that first meeting, as if I were there to speak about someone else’s life, someone else’s cancer, not mine.

About a year ago I received a “termination letter” from oncologist number one stating that he was leaving his practice at the cancer center I have been going to. It was time for he and his family to make a change, something that was completely reasonable and shouldn’t have been so unexpected. But it was. The news was surprising and the forced change was unsettling. It felt like he was abandoning me when I wasn’t quite yet ready. It had taken a while for us to develop our bond, but we had finally done so and the idea of starting over with someone new was not a pleasant one for me to contemplate.

Still, I accepted his “resignation from my case” pretty well. I understood life is about change and wished him well.

I carried on fine and rescheduled my next appointment with oncologist number two, who turned out to be a substitute, a fact no one bothered to tell me about when I made the appointment. This was bothersome for me as I immediately connected with this particular doctor and hated learning she would be temporary.

A few months later when it was time for my next appointment, I met with oncologist number three. This meeting did not go well. From the get go I knew we were not a match, not even close, and thus that doctor patient relationship ended before it even really began. I decline to divulge details, but let’s just say his judgment seemed less than stellar.

Immediately, I consulted with oncologist number four because there were a couple of pressing issues still in need of attention. Oncologist number four kindly squeezed hubby and me in and added me to his growing list of patients. Both hubby and I liked him and once again felt like we were in competent and caring hands.

Recently my cancer center added a new female oncologist to its expanding list of specialists. I knew about this new hire way back during my meeting with oncologist number two, but things weren’t official until September. These things take time.

In the mean time I contemplated if another meeting with yet another oncologist and then perhaps yet another possible change was worth the time and effort it would take to figure this out.

Ultimately, I decided yes, it was worth the time and effort. Again.

So you guessed it. I met with oncologist number five intending just to chat a bit, ask a few questions, see how we would or would not hit it off and determine her availability. I would then decide where to go from there.

It turns out I’m feeling optimistic about oncologist number five. First of all, she had done her homework by reading my file, which is rather thick, before she entered the room. She had familiarized herself quite well with all I had been through medically speaking, an immediate good sign. She’s experienced, even with relatively rare BRCA patients like me. She was thorough in her exam. She asked pertinent questions. She listened to my concerns. She offered opinions and advice when I asked for them. She seemed competent enough. But will this be enough? Time will tell I guess.

So the bottom line is this:  I believe whenever possible it is worth the time, effort, consternation, upheaval and inconvenience to keep searching for an oncologist, in fact, any doctor until you are satisfied.

I think oncologist number five is a keeper, at least I hope so.

Have you had to change oncologists?

What things are most important to you when choosing any doctor?

 

 

 

 

 

14 comments


  • Tami Boehmer

    November 9, 2012

    So glad you finally found an oncologist that works for you! Very timely subject for me as I’m going to see oncologist #4 on Tuesday.

    Actually I’ve stayed with my local oncologist since I was diagnosed 10 years ago. I like his bedside manner and willingness to work with other doctor, but don’t necessarily trust him to guide my care. So I’ve went to other oncologists in other cities as consulting doctors who make the decisions and my local onc implements them.

    So far, so good. My last consulting oncologist is leaving to go to Stanford. He was good for a while, but felt like he had given up on me last spring. So I’m now seeing another one at Ohio State, a couple hours from where we live.

    It is a hassle, but it’s absolutely worth the effort to find the best doctor possible. It’s your life; people get more opinions for house rennovations than they do for their health. For me, I’m looking for someone who is invested in me; won’t give up, and has the knowledge of access to the most innovative treatments. Someone who is willing to go outside the box.

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2012

      Tami, I’m glad you are finding a “system” that works for you. You deserve someone who is invested in you, won’t give up and is knowledgeable. We all do. Good luck with number four. Thank you for sharing, Tami.

  • Meg

    November 9, 2012

    I expect respect from any physician. This is my body and I am familiar with its quirks. I need to know that he/she will listen to me and consider what I have to say. I agree with Tami that I want the doc to be skilled and knowledgeable but if they don’t listen I find the door!

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2012

      Meg, I agree that having a doctor who respects his/her patient is critical. We do know our bodies best, that’s a very good point. If a doctor doesn’t listen, that’s a major red flag. Thanks for commenting.

  • Facing Cancer Together

    November 9, 2012

    I had to switch while returning to Canada – I’d never thought to interview oncologists. Instead I just looked up reputations online and found a lovely fellow. Actually, I’m quite impressed that you meet/try your doctor before committing – that takes some real proactivity. Good luck with number 5! ~Catherine

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2012

      Catherine, I’m glad you were happy with the one you found online. It’s nice there is a lot of information available online too. Still, I think a face-to-face interview before choosing is key if at all possible, which of course, is not always the case. Proactivity is always key isn’t it? Thanks for commenting.

  • Susan Zager

    November 10, 2012

    Like you I never expected to get a letter from my oncologist who I was with for seven years that she was leaving her practice to work at a Veterans Hospital. I really liked her but my very close friend who went through primary chemo together with me in the same office with a different Dr, had MBC and they had a new rule that no one could sit with a patient in the infusion center. That really bothered me as I would always try to sit with her during chemo. Meanwhile I had another friend with Mets doing chemo at another office where I have sat with her during her infusions. There was a female oncologist who knew a lot about breast cancer that a few friends of mine have and have had her as their oncologist. We hit it off immediately and I am so glad I made the change. One should never settle for an oncologist that does not work for them.

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2012

      Susan, I agree, no one should have to “settle.” I’m glad you hit it off with your new oncologist and that you’re happy with the change now. Thanks for commenting.

  • Alli

    November 12, 2012

    I am still with my original Oncologist. we have argued, he has been annoyed with me for not “Behaving”, I have not always been the most co-operative patient but it’s me that he has to deal with the cancer is not his but mine. I feel we have since developed a mutual respect. he now gets I’m not a push-over but I will ask 100 +1 questions., Don’t try and feed me more drugs without first explaining the reasons side effects and the outcome expected. My Onc is cute sweet and short but does he get around fast….. I hope I never have to change . Adapting to new Dr.s can be very draining physically & mentally…..

    Love Alli XX

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2012

      Alli, I think it’s great you and your oncologist have allowed your doctor/patient relationship to evolve. It sounds like you respect each other’s opinions and that’s key. I think it’s great you ask 100+ questions when necessary. I hope you don’t have to switch too. Thanks for sharing.

  • lopsided_blogger

    November 15, 2012

    I agree that it is definitely worth the search to find a doctor you work well with. I want to find mine, but the actual searching and appointment making is done with a “get my butt of the couch” kind of reluctance. Ironically, I also got a “moving on” letter from my onc this past month, so I guess I better get my butt off the couch and start calling around. Since I’m six years out, I was thinking about not finding a new one, but I think it’s like a security blanket in some respects and potentially vital in others.

    • Nancy

      November 15, 2012

      Peggy, I’m sorry you got one of “those” letter too. You probably should find yourself a new oncologist. As you said, it’s like having a security blanket. It’s nice to have someone lined up if questions arise down the road about side effects, concerns or whatever. But I understand about your reluctance too. It can be draining. Thanks so much for commenting.

  • Beth L. Gainer

    November 15, 2012

    Nancy, I’m glad oncologist #5 is a keeper. I’m lucky right now that my oncologist has stayed the same. I’d be crushed if he retired, which may happen. As we all know, doctors have lives too, and they can’t always be around for us. However, I think the office should’ve told you that that one oncologist was temporary. This type of specialist is an emotional one; it’s not like a general doctor at all.

    • Nancy

      November 16, 2012

      Beth, I’m relieved she’s a keeper too. I’m really tired of starting over and over. And you’re right, this is no “ordinary” specialist. Thanks for commenting.

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