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Oncologist Number Two

As some of you may remember from a previous post, my oncologist recently quit and moved his practice elsewhere, hence my need to find a new oncologist.

When I arrived recently to check in for my appointment with my new oncologist feeling a bit more apprehensive than usual, the receptionist casually mentioned to me, “Oh by the way, your new oncologist is temporary. She’s filling in until two new doctors are hired. She will probably only be here six months tops.”

Of course, my immediate reaction was what? Why didn’t someone tell me this? Why is the patient the last to know?

As my blood pressure started to rise a bit, I replied back to said receptionist (trying to sound equally casual about things), “You know I don’t really like starting over with someone new so many times. It would have been nice to know this before today. I might have chosen a different doctor to see.”

“I know,” she responded. But clearly, she had no idea where I was coming from.

While waiting for my name to be called, I quickly adjusted to the situation. I’m getting much more adept at quick adjustments. Cancer does that to a person. Also, I was a substitute teacher for a number of years I reminded myself over and over. We substitutes stick together. We substitutes know we are the glue that “holds things together.” I’ll be fine. Substitutes are fine. A substitute oncologist will be fine. Everything will be fine.

And it was!

First of all, seeing a woman oncologist was rather nice. Secondly, she was a great listener and I found her to be very compassionate and easy to talk to. She patiently went over my file, asked me questions, explained her philosophy about monitoring breast cancer patients (which of course, is the same as my old oncologist’s philosophy –  no scans, no tests, in short, no procedures without symptoms) Sometimes this wait and see approach makes me uneasy, though I do understand its logic. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she took lots of time to address my questions and concerns, and I had more than a few to discuss.

I ended up really liking my substitute oncologist. She seemed to be not only a great doctor, but also somebody I might like to share a cup of coffee with. How many doctors can you say that about?

A substitute doctor I learned, is sort of like a traveling doctor of years gone by. Her official title is locum tenens, a person who temporarily fulfills the duties of another. A locum physician is one who fills in when a hospital is short-staffed. My substitute oncologist shared with me about her experiences traveling around the country “filling in,” an admirable thing to do I told her. That kind of nomadic life-style takes a special kind of person/doctor.

Before this appointment I told myself I would approach it as an opportunity, a new pair of eyes (and hands), a new mind to bounce questions off, a fresh perspective and a chance to learn from someone else’s experience.

I did. And I intend to keep doing exactly that.

Then I’ll start all over and do it again with oncologist number three; whenever that might be.

Has cancer made you more adept at adapting quickly to change?

Have you ever had a “substitute doctor?”

Have you had to switch oncologists?



Jan Baird Hasak

Monday 19th of March 2012

This post hits home for me, Nancy as I think about changes in my life I hadn't expected to encounter. Yet change is inevitable.

I think cancer has made me more adept at adapting quickly to change. The 2008 stock market crash comes to mind. So many people panicked, while I thought it wasn't any worse a tragedy than cancer. What was the big deal, anyway? And that helped me deal with the aftermath of that downturn.

I haven't had a “substitute doctor," but am intrigued by the idea. I did switch oncologists, though not because I was forced to. I wanted to get seen by a very popular oncologist who wasn't seeing new patients. But once when I gave a talk about my cancer story, someone from his office was in the audience and said she could get me in. And she did. So that was cool. I really do like him a lot, just as you do your woman oncologist. I'm so glad you hit it off. I'm hoping the ultimate oncologist you get is just as thoughtful and kind as this one. XOXO


Tuesday 20th of March 2012

Jan, Change is inevitable, but some of the changes can really catch us off guard as you know all too well. Cancer certainly teaches us a thing or two about adaptability doesn't it? It's interesting you got in to see that oncologist after you gave your talk. I wonder what you said! Thanks so much for sharing, Jan.


Saturday 17th of March 2012

I've had the same oncologist since my diagnosis and I hope to have him through my death. The thought of having to switch would give me anguish. I wonder if they know how much we rely on them?


Sunday 18th of March 2012

Ann, I'm glad you've been able to keep the same oncologist throughout. The stress of making a change is not something you need to be dealing with. I'm not sure if oncologists realize how much we rely on them. I'm sure some do and some don't. Thanks so much for taking time to add to this discussion. I've been thinking about you...

Lori Hope

Saturday 17th of March 2012

Great great post, Nancy! I was just talking w/a good friend - a nurse - yesterday about gender and oncologists (one of my oncs is a woman) -

And of course having to change one's "map" is a part of navigating Cancerland, and flexibility and adaptability are crucial skills!

I switched oncologists after my first bout with cancer, and one appt. with the guy, because he scared the hell out of me, seemingly without regard to my feelings of vulnerability and terror early on. (I write about it in my book - he's the one who said the tumor seemed small but they could open me up and find hundreds of tiny tumors).

Again, great post, great inspiration, great food for thought- Love, Lor


Sunday 18th of March 2012

Lori, You're right, flexibility and adaptability are crucial skills when navigating cancerland aren't they? Good for you for making that switch early on. Your initial oncologist sounds more than a bit insensitive I'd say. Do you still see the same one now? Thanks for sharing, Lori, and thanks for the kind words. Hope things are going ok for you.

Philippa (Feisty Blue Gecko)

Saturday 17th of March 2012

Great post, Nancy - yes it is so unsettling changing our doctors, having to start all over again and just that feeling of not knowing the new Doctor. So I share the delight in finding that your new oncologist is such a great locum.

Interestingly, I was struck by "I ended up really liking my substitute oncologist. She seemed to be not only a great doctor, but also somebody I might like to share a cup of coffee with. How many doctors can you say that about?"

In a very odd coincidence, I am just preparing a post (probably be ready tomorrow) about my Doctor and the friendship we have developed. I visited her recently in her new posting in East Timor so we shared a whole weekend of coffee, chat and outdoor activities! How many doctors can you say that about?

a lovely, warming post. Thank you :) Philippa


Saturday 17th of March 2012

Philppa, That is a very odd coincidence! I look forward to that post! It is pretty great when we "hit it off" so well with our doctor isn't it? I'm so glad to hear you have remained friends with one of yours. That must be a really special friendship for you both. Thanks so much for sharing about it.

AnneMarie @chemobrainfog

Saturday 17th of March 2012

Nancy, You make the MOST excellent point at the end of the post. It's not so bad getting a "fresh pair of eyes" into the mix every once in a while. While we are comforted by what is familiar, it's not such a bad thing to have someone else thrown into the mix. (Easy for me to say from those "cheap seats")...... I'm glad you liked her....



Saturday 17th of March 2012

Ann Marie, Yes, fresh eyes, ideas and opinions can be a really good thing. I'm glad I liked her too. Thanks for commenting.

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