When a Second Opinion is One Too Many

Not every cancer patient seeks, needs or wants a second opinion.

Not every cancer patient seeks, needs or wants a second opinion.

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and undergoing surgery, Maureen Convery, who lives outside of Philadelphia, felt confident that she was in good hands with her local gynecological oncologist. But her family pushed for her to obtain a second opinion from a well-respected cancer center.

“I was told I should go to Fox Chase by a neighbor; I was told I should go to (the University of Pennsylvania) by a friend; I was told I should fly to Texas to go to MD Anderson by my sister-in-law,” she says. “And all of it, my parents and siblings were willing to pay for.”

But Convery had done her research. She knew her gynecological oncologist was recommending the “gold standard” of treatment for ovarian cancer, so she didn’t see a reason to travel all over town (or throughout the country) for more advice.

Moreover, she couldn’t even get an appointment at the big cancer centers for about six weeks. “The mental toll it was taking on me trying to get appointments, getting access to slides, talking to receptionists and nurses, making potential life-and-death decisions—all the while feeding our kids, walking the dog, running the errands, paying the bills, going to baseball games and band events, and trying to stay calm—was too much for me. There was not enough Valium in the world to get me through the month it would have taken to get a second opinion.”

So she started immediate treatment with her local doctor—and doesn’t regret her decision.

“High-grade (ovarian cancer) grows very fast, (so) I wanted to poison the little suckers immediately,” Convery says. “The thought of delaying treatment was 100 percent unacceptable to me. I felt like I just needed to take the leap. I was standing on the high board of life, and my choice was to go back down the ladder and rethink my jump or go for it. So I went for it. Psychologically I needed to dive in, so I did.”

In the opinion of Christian Zanartu, palliative medicine specialist at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in Bronx, N.Y., there’s nothing wrong with that kind of thinking.

There is a “therapeutic element,” Zanartu says, to trusting your doctor in “making intelligent, humane, tailored decisions about your care.”

Many other patients, including those wtih ovarian cancer, are encouraged to get a second opinion, which can provide answers, ideas and perspective about whether a patient is on the right treatment path.

Read more on whether a second opinion is right for you at "Getting a Second Opinion."