Paging Dr. Goldfarb


Carrie Corey

My cancer center is also a teaching hospital, which means I often encounter the future of cancer treatment: oncologists in training. They usually enter the room before my doctor and ask about my diagnosis, symptoms and drug side effects. I visit my oncologist enough for him to know the answers to their questions, but the exercise helps teach them good bedside manner. I met my first oncology fellow soon after hearing the "C" word for the first time; so understandably, I was more than a little overwhelmed. The one thing my husband and I remembered from the discussion was that his name was Dr. Goldfarb, so from that moment on, every doctor-in-training I have met is simply referred to as a "Goldfarb." Now that I am a veteran in the cancer center, I have a hidden agenda when I meet a Goldfarb: I want to show them I am a person, not a textbook statistic. The ability to see patients as people instead of cancer cases is a valuable skill for an oncologist – one that will no doubt be appreciated by the thousands of patients a doctor will treat throughout his or her career. I tell them all how I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 with no strong family history. Thank goodness my gynecologist advocated for a biopsy even though the mammogram and ultrasound said my lump didn't have the characteristics of cancer. Statistically-speaking, it shouldn't have been cancer...but it was. My initial treatment included a double mastectomy with six hearty rounds of chemo. Statistically, I wasn't likely to have a recurrence...but I did. These are good lessons for anyone to learn, particularly doctors who will be diagnosing future cancer patients. Last year, I met a Goldfarb in my breast oncologist's office one week and saw him in the gynecological oncologist's office the following week. Upon our second introduction, I laughed, "We actually met last week. Looks like we get to talk about the north AND south poles!" He just stared at the floor and avoided eye contact – I guess the humor of the situation was lost on him.While most Goldfarbs take the opportunity to learn from patients, my most recent Goldfarb visit was extremely unsettling. I was telling him how it took almost six months to diagnose my recurrence because my X-rays were clean, despite a persistent cough and severe shoulder pain. He replied, "Well, statistics show that finding metastatic recurrence earlier doesn't mean you'll live any longer."WOW! In the four years since my first diagnosis, I have never felt more like a cancer statistic than I did at that moment. I'm not sure if Goldfarb was trying to sound knowledgeable, or if he is arrogant enough to believe we know everything about this wacky disease. Cancer is so individualized, we don't always know why a drug will work in one case and not another – a fact that is scary and encouraging at the same time.I quipped back, "Well, I have metastases to the lungs, liver and bones. Had we found my recurrence earlier, perhaps it would just be in my bones. And if I hadn't had so many spots by the time we discovered it, maybe I wouldn't have just spent 10 grueling months getting weekly chemo!"My husband likes to say that I play in the small percentages, and I tend to agree. I was in the small percentage of women diagnosed in her 20s. I am in the small percentage of women who are metastatic in her 30s. And I hope to be in the lucky percentage of women that dies of something other than cancer well into my 90s.We are not cancer statistics – we are people! I don't care how long the average woman lives with metastatic breast cancer, because frankly – who wants to settle for being average?Carrie Corey is a wife, mom and metastatic breast cancer survivor. She will be reporting in frequently on her journey.

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