My relationship with my oncologist is a critical and cherished one. She is as much a part of my cancer battle as I am -- the light guiding me through the muddy, shady path. In my urgent situation, I didn’t find her through a comprehensive selection process or from others’ recommendations. Rather, it was a series of chances that united us, but I know now she was meant to be my oncologist.
On paper, it may seem obvious why we got along so well. We’re both female, we’re both physicians and we’re both mothers. Although we related in these aspects, the depth of our relationship ultimately had nothing to do with either of these commonalities. I attribute my experience with my oncologist to her humanity and excellence as a provider.
I will never forget the first time I entered her exam room as a mentally disheveled young woman who’d recently received a devastating cancer diagnosis. She sat directly in front of me, our knees almost touching. Then she met my gaze with her graceful blue eyes and introduced herself. In that moment, I felt her genuine and comforting presence. An overwhelming sense of relief washed over me and the tears started to flow.
“We are going to figure this out,” she affirmed. I had no idea what kind of breast cancer I had, if I needed surgery or radiation, or if I was going to live or die, but I felt the power of having my oncologist with me, on my side.
In each and every conversation we had my oncologist remained receptive and patient, which deepened my conviction in her. Through all of my questioning -- sometimes repeating questions (thank you chemo brain!) -- she listened, kindly explained, and then checked my understanding to see if she’d answered my question. Although I know the busy, time-restricted schedule she worked within, I never felt it. When we were together, all her attention was on me.
I wasn’t just a patient in her office. I was a busy person with a budding family and career who happened to be diagnosed with breast cancer. My cancer connected us, but our conversations spanned all topics of life and I know I was heard because time after time my oncologist demonstrated that she understood me.
She acknowledged my beliefs, my values, and my goals. As she presented the best treatment options, she did so objectively, or “by the book,” and then explored each with me through my lens of my life. In this manner, my oncologist gained my trust. I knew she was acting in my best interest. I didn’t have to say many words for her to understand exactly what I was thinking; sometimes even before I realized what I was feeling, she knew. And it amazed me. She truly got me.
Being able to have this connection with my oncologist was incredibly empowering and positively impacted my experience with breast cancer. I am so grateful to have had her by my side. All individuals with cancer deserve to trust and receive the grace and compassion of their oncologist as I did.
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