The majority of baby boomers, including myself, grew up being told and believing that our parents, our elders, and our physicians had all the answers. All we had to do was put our trust in them, follow their advice, take our medications as prescribed, and everything would turn out just fine. A patient questioning the doctor was not part of the acceptable norm. This was before “politically correct” thinking.
Thanks to the Internet, great advances in access to just about everything have resulted in a new way of thinking. We live in an electronic world of instant information, scientific-based knowledge, and easy access to many opinions and suggestions. And yet, sometimes it is not the best information.
Having said that, we know that knowledge is power. “Empowerment” is a word I have posted to the bulletin board above my computer work area. Empowerment is one of many words now in my vocabulary.
Since life after cancer surgery, regular scans, tests, and continuing on with my prescribed medications, I’m the patient holding the power. I’ve learned to question anything I’m not totally clear about or uncomfortable with. If I can’t get the answer I’m looking for from my physician, I will obtain a second or third opinion, with no hesitation.
Example: After changing aromatase inhibitors 3 times in 2 years because of the negative side effects, I told my oncologist, “I want to switch to tamoxifen,” the “grandmother” of drugs used to control the chances of cancer returning. He talked me out of it the first time I asked, but not the second time. When it became obvious we were not on the same page about changing the medications, I let my oncologist know I would be getting a second opinion.
The following week, I discussed the situation with my surgeon during a routine 6-month follow-up exam. That single conversation was the best thing I had done for myself in years. The statement I received from my surgeon was empowering. He said, “You have needs that are not being met, and that’s not acceptable.”
I left my surgeon’s office with a whole new outlook for my future treatments. Thanks to my surgeon’s referral, within 3 days I met with and interviewed a second medical oncologist, and instinctively knew I was now on the right track. It took me nearly 3 years to take control of my medical needs and wants, but I’ve learned that indeed, “it’s never too late.”
Over the past few years I spoke with other cancer survivors who have been told by their physicians, “Oh, that test isn’t necessary”; “your insurance won’t cover it”; or “not to worry about the lump, it’s probably nothing!”
These strong people came forward as their own advocates, demanded that the tests be done, and, in their cases, their cancers were found in a timely manner. It is hard to imagine what their diagnosis could have been had they waited weeks, months, or even years as recommended by certain physicians.
Physicians are humans. Yes, they are well-educated, yet they can’t or don’t have all the answers. Medical breakthroughs take place on a daily basis. With the current patient access to more information, patients and doctors have better lines of communication, which can result in a much better outcome for both.
Never stop asking questions. Can’t get the dialogue you need? Get a second or third opinion. Whatever it takes, do it.
You have the power. This is your body, your life, and your future!