Choosing the Oncologist

Choosing the center/ringmaster

Sorry about the delay in posting.    Been a little busy, trying to juggle.  So,  let me take you guys back to when I was faced with one of my biggest decisions:  Choosing an Oncologist.

It's late February 2015 and my plate is overflowing.  I've got to finish tons of paperwork and reports at the job, squeeze in meetings with colleagues, create action plans,  defend client insubordination and begin to prepare the students & their parents on my impending leave. In addition to all that is I've got to choose a medical oncologist (who will be the center excuse me - ringmaster) as well as prepare myself, my home and my family for my upcoming surgery. 

I had my own ideas on who I wanted to lead this team.  My team.  The oncologist of my choice had to have been voted in the top 20 by his peers and should be listed on the top 100 Doctors list published each year, by New York Magazine (I know it sounds, crazy, but it really helped narrowing down the field of qualified candidates).  In addition, my oncologist needed to have several years of experience treating my particular subset of breast cancer, trained, taught and currently involved  at one the top medical research facilities.  The candidate had to take into consideration my prior history (as I had Wilms Tumor as a child and received what was then experimental chemo treatment in conjunction with radiation) and the oncologist had to be able to explain their reasoning, of how they came up with their approach, regarding my treatment plan. In addition, I needed to feel comfortable with my oncologist & trust that I could ask questions and receive real dialogue.  I needed to feel that the oncologist was going to take into consideration my specific needs and applying them to a reasonable treatment plan.   My oncologist needed to be open to communication and encourage that simple, but important aspect.  Talk to me, not at me and do it often, that's what I needed.   Whatever candidate could best fit those conditions, along with how I felt emotionally in their presence, would have the job.  

The first candidate was someone my breast surgeon recommend.  Immediately I was suspicious, just because it was not my choice!  Luckily I'd voiced my concerns in my support group and immediately found someone to accompany to the candidates office for the interview.  It was a great relief to have someone with me to take notes, type them up and send them to you!  I would highly recommend this approach to anyone. It allowed me to concentrate on asking the questions I'd written down and get a feel of the doctors style, dedication, experience and resources.  This particular oncologist was smart, a good listener was very interested in the prior treatment I had received as a child. During our interview, I was asked to contact my mother and put her on speaker phone.  The oncologist wanted to hear directly from my mother what my prior diagnosis was, how I had been treated, what I had been treated with and the length of time I had been on the treatment plan.  This candidate was very thorough. 

I mentioned to the 1st candidate during our interview, that I felt like the poster child in my family.  Immediately, on cue the candidate addressed my fears and understood my anxiety stemmed from how much I remembered from my Wilms Tumor treatment as a small child .  She implored me to change my way of thinking and actively address what was happening now.  I had cancer and I had to take action.  Plain and simple.  As far as this oncologist was concerned, it was a time sensitive matter, and although the understanding was for me to obtain a second opinion, time was slipping away and a decision had to be made.  There was no getting around it.

My second candidate was my first choice.  Ivy league education, loads of experience treating breast cancer and highly rated by his peers.  The second candidate was sort of a brilliant, quirky, nerdy mad scientist type of oncologist who had a very unique aura.  The second candidate quickly pointed out that I was the second potential patient to come see him that week who had previously had Wilms Tumor as a child.  This oncologist also stated in real terms that he did not think by Wilms Tumor diagnosis as a child, and my breast cancer diagnosis as an adult were unrelated.  He believed that there was a connection.  It was the first time I had heard, what I had felt deep down in my soul.  My breast cancer diagnosis was not a anomaly, and was related somehow to my earlier childhood battle.

The second candidate also pointed out something that was very apparent, but know one had addressed, my acknowledgement I was about to face a serious life altering matter.  I can remember clearly how I continued to ask the candidate questions in a happy abstract matter (as if I was hiring an mechanic for my car) and the oncologist challenging me to put aside any other aspects of my life and totally focus on the fight I had ahead of me.  I vividly remember the oncologist looking on in disbelief as I worried about the parking meter and getting change.  He went on to shut me down, send my support to go figure out the parking arrangement and challenged me to focus on the task at hand, choosing an oncologist and coming up with a treatment plan.

Ultimately I went with the oncologist that my breast surgeon had recommended.  What swayed my decision?  It was this oncologist's ability to tailor the use of chemotherapy, to the subset of cancer I had and her commitment to my overall care. 

I'd made my choice and now it was time to nail down a date to begin.  We were about to take a really daunting, crazy, zany journey together, which would challenge the very core of our resiliency and tenacity to get the job done.

Up next:  Last Call for Alcohol