Dear Doctor Gray-Hair,
My oncologist is Doctor G.. She is in charge of the team.
If you are not Doctor G., and especially if you are seeing me when I expected to see her, then don’t expect me to trust you because you wear a white coat and someone told you to look me in the eye. I can tell that’s a practiced skill of yours, Doctor Gray-Hair. That’s another thing, I’m plenty capable of understanding what you said without you speaking ever-so-slowly. I’m a grown woman, and I nearly have a Ph.D.. I can toss around big words just like you can, so talk to me like a big girl. Sorry if all this pink frilly crap made you forget you’re actually treating someone who hasn’t played with Barbies in decades. Get a grip. And throw out the pink while you’re at it.
Now, about big girls: we have questions. Sometimes, they pop up before the chemo begins. Sometimes, they pop up in the middle. Sometimes, they pop up after the chemo. Regardless, they pop up. I did my research. I continue to do it. I have more questions. I’ve listed them out for you. When I ask you to answer them, don’t busy yourself checking my lymph nodes and brush me off. When I ask where my oncologist is, don’t pretend the question is a silly one, and answer it by telling me that she will see the paperwork and that I might not see her when I come in for these pre-chemo appointments. Doctor Gray-Hair, when I protest, don’t assure me you, too are a medical oncologist. Don’t tell me that’s how the system works. It’s not working for me, so fix it. Don’t pretend it doesn’t matter that I’ve never met you, Doctor Gray-Hair. It matters. When I ask you a second time about the relationship between hormonal therapy and scoliosis and menopause-like symptoms affecting my back, don’t tell me I would have gone into menopause at some point in my life anyway. It is a horrendous answer. My appointment was with Doctor G.. When I try to ask my questions yet again, don’t tell me this is a check-in appointment to “T-up the chemo” and that questions should be asked before chemo or when chemo is complete. When I ask my questions a third time, don’t tell me not to compare myself to others. I can figure out to what standard I will compare my treatment. Just answer the goddamn question. Following up by then asking if “whatever is urgent” has been covered is not good enough. When I ask again to see Doctor G., and when I roll my eyes at you because of your dumb answer, don’t tell me that you’re “part of the team.” I’M THE TEAM CAPTAIN AND I GET TO SAY WHO IS ON MY TEAM AND I HAVEN’T EVER SEEN YOU PLAY BALL. SO NO, YOU’RE NOT ON MY TEAM. Don’t tell me I need to get used to seeing other doctors when it’s clearly causing combustion. Don’t make me feel like I’m asking for the world to spin the other direction. It’s a pretty bad sign when I start rolling my eyes. You’ve made me feel entirely unstable Doctor Gray-Hair: I don’t know why treatment decisions were made, and you are not answering my questions. That makes me feel a whole lot worse. Exponentially worse. I don’t care if I have to wait. You might not know, since we never met when I had hair, that I’m a redhead, and that sometimes I have a temper to match my hair. I do not like you Doctor Gray-Hair, and I want my oncologist, and I want her now. You did a crappy job with my questions, you talked to me like I can’t possibly understand my treatment and my doctors’ decisions, and you did not make me feel confident about what is going to happen next, in fact you’ve made me insanely terrified about this whole, entire thing. So send me MY oncologist and get the hell out.
Now let me tell you, dear gray-haired doctor, what happened when Doctor G. walked in. She realized how upset I was. She asked what had happened. She gave me a hug. She apologized for you saying this was not a time to ask a whole lot of questions. She said I’d never see you again. She reminded me I could call her anytime. And then she took my list of questions and answered them in detail, one by one. She told me about the oncotype test and why its irrelevant for me. She explained the latest research on chemo, hormone therapy, and scoliosis. She assured me this was the right course of action. She told me to try the marijuana for the nausea because it couldn’t hurt. She discussed the new radiation study for women under 35, and the new study about giving women under 35 shots to stop our periods in addition to tamoxifen, after chemo. She asked if I had any more questions. She made sure I knew I could call her directly in case anything else came up. She gave us both hugs and said she’d be sure she saw me next time.
End of story. You see, Doctor gray-hair? Just a little information and something called respect, and we’re all fine and dandy. But that’s why I see Doctor G.. She’s one of the smartest, most compassionate doctors I’ve met. You can tell she cares, right away. And you can tell she is absolutely up to date on all the research. She makes it very clear she’s in charge, and she’s got everything under control, and that I can trust her. That makes me relax. She exudes competence and caring at the same time. It’s not hard, Doctor gray-hair. Just be nice. Be compassionate. And don’t expect me to trust you just because you have the same letters after your name that Doctor G has. I’ve never met you. Learn how to trust-build. For goodness sake, do it for the patients that are yours.