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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?



26 thoughts to “Oncologist Number Two”

  1. I have definitely had a substitute Doctor in fact over the past couple of years at least 3 I can think of. A doctor is one of the most important men/women in our lives. It’s like looking for a life partner to take care of yours and family health issues. Not a lot of room for mistakes & misgivings. Essentially our lives are in their hands so you want to be certain you made the correct choice because one size does not always fit all.I finally found the right doctor, very happy with him. In fact he makes house calls and has office hours on Saturdays!

    I would like to change Oncologists but unfortunately there is no one to change too. Our city is in the midst of building a state of the art hospital with a new Cancer wing that will have all the new technology bells and whistles. We will have two radiation machines. It’s going to be marvelous. There will be new Drs. but none just yet. My biggest complaint is his treating his patients as though we are clueless. I ask questions and expect answers not to be patted on my head telling me if HE thought there was something to talk about he would.
    I don’t appreciate being talked down. This is my body, my cancer and if I ask you need to tell me even if I repeat the same question at each appointment.. I’ll keep looking!

    Love Alli XX

    1. Alli, Well, I don’t blame you one bit for hating being talked down to. That’s terrible. Sometimes our choices are limited. Sometimes we can’t always change doctors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speak up when we aren’t happy or satisfied, right? Keep advocating for yourself as much as possible. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    I’m glad you had a great experience with oncologist No. 2, even if she was temporary. It hopefully built confidence in you that you could find another quality doctor.

    I haven’t switched oncologists, but as you know, I changed PCPs. And I was the last to know — the news was broken to me less than delicately.

    Yes, having cancer means one has to adapt to situations rather quickly. When diagnosed and treated, one has to make life and death decisions quickly. So I guess that causes us to adapt more quickly.

    A great posting. I’m hoping oncologist number 3 is a great fit.

    1. Beth, Yes, I remember about that switch you had to make. It’s hard sometimes all this changing, decision making and adapting that we must do. Ultimately, we do it though don’t we? We keep putting one foot in front of the other. Thanks for being part of my support system along the way. It’s nice knowing you’re “out there,” Beth. Thank you.

  3. What a pleasant suprize! Both for you and for we readers. As I read and shared your frustration as you were checking in and learning you were about to see a sub, I think my blood pressure rose a bit as well. I was ready to be outraged, convinced (wrongly) that there was an inevitably negative outcome to this. How wonderfully wrong I was.

    Having not ever been diagnosed with cancer, I haven’t ever had an oncologist. I do have an endocrinologist who stands out in my mind as one of the most human doctors I’ve ever had. Once we address all of the health issues I’m in for, he’ll take as much time as I’ll give to discuss life, politics, family, food, you name it. Wonderful! Except when I’m in the waiting room while he does likewise with the patient before me.

    So glad it went well, Nancy.

    1. Susan, Thank you so much for your comments and continuing support. I’m glad you were pleasantly surprised, as was I! And I know what you mean about that waiting room hold-up! I guess we all relate to that one!

  4. I’ve switched oncologists twice–once for myself and once for Seamus (the famous beagle, as you know). Both times I took longer than I should have, waiting and hoping, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that things would change and the offending oncologist would magically become a compassionate or at least tolerant human being. Never happened and finally I switched to better, more caring, kind, wonderful oncologists for both of us. (And revenge shall be mine in the published memoir MMwwhahahaha! 😉 ) Too bad you can’t have the substitute doctor for long term. and by the way, I get the same form of follow up care and feel the same way about it–confused, happy, mildly uneasy.

    1. Teresa, Good to hear from you and congrats on the book! Hope Seamus is doing better. I know he’s getting lots of loving care! Yes, I even mentioned to the receptionist that perhaps they should hire this substitute oncologist full-time. I was joking, but serious too. Of course, this particular doctor isn’t interested in that anyway. I’ll “enjoy” seeing her while I can. Not that you can ever “enjoy” seeing an oncologist, but you know what I mean. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I have changed Drs. several times, Almost always to an improvement. I guess if one has a lumpectomy the treatment is different. I have a mammogram and then 6 months later an MRI, repeat. I have the Brac II gene. Glad your Appointment went well.
    My daughter voluntarily changed cancer Drs. for her dog, Xena, a couple of weeks ago. We’re pleased with that change too.

    1. Betty, It’s nice to have the option to change doctors. Sometimes you’re limited though. At my clinic there are only three other oncologists I believe. I’m hoping this substitute decides to stay, but I’m pretty sure she won’t. In that case it’ll be on to number three! Oh well. Change can be a good thing! So glad you guys switched vets too. Hope Xena’s doing alright. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Great post, Nancy!! I so relate to the need for what feels like constant readjustments, some bigger than others. By coincidence, I’ve been in education for 27 years. When I first came to America, I started out as a substitute teacher, where I learned all too quickly what happens when you don’t “monitor and adjust.” 🙂
    So glad you had a great experience with your sub oncologist. Your openness probably had a whole lot to do with it too.

    1. Yvonne, It’s fun to hear from yet another substitute! Yes, we know about making quick adjustments don’t we? And now with cancer, well, you know all about that…Thank you for sharing.

    1. Elaine, Thank you so much for stopping by. I guess it probably is more common than one might think. After all doctors come and go too, but sometimes a change can turn out to be just fine!

  7. I once met a traveling ER doc on a plane to France, of all places, and she talked about what it was like to fill in, to have to get up to speed quickly and competently. She really had to be on the ball, but she likes people & she was also a good listener. You’d have to be to do a good job as a temp. It was an interesting conversation. Sounds like this onc was the same kind of person.

    I switched med oncs & was very glad I did. She was much smarter & a much better listener. But with my rad onc, I hardly ever did get to see him, but was usually seen by onc residents, who were all nicer than him, actually. But a steady diet of never seeing the same person twice was very wearing & did not provide for very good continuity of care when I needed it most. I ended up not going back for any more rad onc check-ups. It was pointless.

    I hope the next onc — the permanent one — is as good as this temp was. Honestly, if nothing else, cancer sure teaches us about adapting!!! xoxo

    1. Kathi, Yes, a good listener is essential when you’re a temp, well, actually it’s essential for any doctor but… I could tell mine was working really hard to get herself “up to speed” on my case and I appreciated her extra effort and willingness to really listen. It does take a special kind of person/doctor for sure to be a fill-in. Thanks for sharing about your experiences – it must have been, as you said, “very wearing” to not see the same doctor consistently when you wanted to. Thanks for commenting and I hope the next one is as good too. And permanent, whatever that means! ha.

  8. 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….


  9. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  10. 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-

    1. 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.

  11. 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?

    1. 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…

  12. 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

    1. 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.

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