After being diagnosed with cancer, one of the biggest goals is completing treatment for good. What do you do in that moment when your oncologist says he doesn't need to see you anymore?
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
What do you do when your oncologist says, “You are completely done with treatment, and I no longer need to see you anymore”? This just happened to me.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago when I was 32 years old. I was pretty much convinced that, even if I was lucky enough to survive cancer, I’d have to see an oncologist for the rest of my life. Turns out, at least for me, that is not necessarily the case. I thought for sure that if an oncologist ever said to me that I was totally complete with treatment and I could go back with just seeing a primary care doctor, I would flip with joy. That’s not exactly how I responded to the news. Last December marked my 5 1/2-year cancerversary. At that oncology appointment, my oncologist said those very words to me. “You are all done.”
I just sat there. I looked around thinking maybe another person was sitting there with me, because surely he couldn’t mean me. When I saw that no one else was there, I still wasn’t sure it was me he was referring to. I think at one point I heard crickets chirping in the room because it was so quiet. Finally, I mustered up the words to ask if he was serious. Actually, I think I hit the floor on both knees and begged him to say otherwise. I surprised myself with my reaction. Why was I so completely freaked out that this doctor didn’t need to see me with every passing six months of time? I had had cancer for crying out loud! Shouldn’t an oncologist be a part of my life for ever and ever? I think this situation surprised me more than hearing the words that I had been diagnosed with cancer in the first place.
After I calmed myself down, we had a long discussion. He wasn’t dismissing me per se, he was helping me move forward. I was wrapping up my five years of being on an aromatase inhibitor, and that was the last of my treatment. Going forward, I could go back to seeing a doctor on a regular basis and, quite frankly, it could just be a primary care physician as my checkups would be considered those of a normal person. He openly invited me to come to see him anytime I needed, but as far as the cancer care, that was something I didn’t need anymore. So in other words, I was done with treatment.
Everyone’s treatment and story is different, so I stress that this was just part of my personal cancer story. I am excited and frankly scared to death that I technically don’t have an oncologist as part of my life anymore. Do you really know what to do when your oncologist says you are done? Not really, as I am still trying to figure it out myself. There are no books or pamphlets that tell you this stuff. I was not ready to let go completely, so we took it in strides. I stopped my aromatase inhibitor in March and then asked for another appointment so I didn’t have to rip the band aid all off at once. I had my last official appointment in June. I then spread out my other appointments with my other doctors, so I was still seeing someone every six months. That way, I took what should be the good news in strides. It has helped me to take this one step at a time towards moving forward and hopefully leaving cancer back far away in my past.