At first, I was apprehensive about a male doctor treating my breast cancer, but I soon realized that he was treating me as he would his own family members — and that made me realize that I was in good hands.
Less than a year into my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, my oncologist gave me the news she would be moving out of state, and I would be assigned to a different oncologist. She was all I had ever known.
In a small state of panic, with the fear and uncertainty of not knowing who would be taking over my care, I talked to some of my favorite chemo nurses. The nurses assured me everything would be OK, and they would facilitate my being assigned to someone they would choose for themselves or for their own family members. After this conversation I was feeling a bit more confident as this impending change of oncologists was to take place — that is, until I heard they were assigning me to a male doctor.
I know what you are probably thinking: What is the problem with a male oncologist? The answer, absolutely nothing. It was me. I was 39 at the time and extremely uncomfortable with a man examining my more intimate body parts, namely, my breasts. I had to get over myself and give this male oncologist a chance. He had been an oncologist for many years, had seen it all and I was told he was the best in town.
As I sat in his office that first time, waiting for him to come in to see me, I was a mess. He was not a knock-on-the-door-first kind of oncologist. He just barged on in and got down to business. His take-charge attitude was exactly what my nerves needed.
At that point in time, I had finished chemotherapy consisting of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (also known as the “red devil”) and had been placed on tamoxifen by my first oncologist. My original tumor in my breast had shrunk and my liver was looking better, but I had noticed several tiny nodules that had popped up on the side of my breast. My first oncologist wasn’t concerned about these nodules or maybe she couldn’t be bothered since she was in the process of moving away. When I saw this new oncologist, he took one look and immediately changed my medication to letrozole to see if the nodules would respond. The letrozole did not change anything, and my tumor markers were on the rise again.
Within a month of being in this new doctor’s care, I was sent for a scan and then I was back on intravenous chemo. My new oncologist had this funny way of telling it like it is. He told me once the genie was out of the bottle, it was sometimes hard to put the genie back in. His plan was to put the genie back in the bottle with more chemotherapy and then we would get rid of “the mothership” through a mastectomy.
Over the three or so years he was my oncologist, I knew I was well cared for, and I even found I looked forward to his quips. If I ever questioned his choices, he would always tell me if I were his daughter this is what he would do for her. His words meant so much to me knowing he was doing everything he could for the best possible outcome.
When it came time for his retirement, I was apprehensive about choosing another oncologist. He had written a letter to his patients and included a list of his choices for his replacement. At one of my last appointments with him, we had a conversation about who I would be choosing. He did not approve of my choice (she was not on his list) and he let me know by insisting I see someone else. I trusted him, yet I was hesitant. He had never led me wrong before and he treated me like he would his own family. He always knew what was best and I give him so much credit for keeping me alive all these years.
I’m still seeing the oncologist he chose for me, another male. Funny thing is, I think I actually prefer males now, and this time, now breastless, I wasn’t as uncomfortable.
There is always that adjustment period that comes with anything new, and sometimes changes can be positive. After living with metastatic breast cancer for over eight years I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe there is a reason behind everything, we just may not know it at the time.
Sometimes what we fear the most is right where we need to be all along. And who knows, without these two amazing oncologists, I may not have made it this long.
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