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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cancer? Find the Right Team

Cancer treatment is not one-size-fits-all. You wouldn’t go to a community hospital for cancer surgery, nor would you go to a cancer center for hemorrhoid removal. Further, all cancer centers are not alike; each has a different philosophy, a different culture, a different specialty. It’s all about choosing the right facility and the right team for your cancer.

Sandy, a patient with stage III colon cancer, came to me a few months ago, wanted me to go with her to see her surgeon. The surgeon was very nice and she felt comfortable with him. However, it was very obvious that this doctor did not specialize in colon cancer. I begged her to let me take her to a specialist. After meeting the specialist, she immediately realized she had almost made a huge mistake, possibly the biggest mistake of her life.

Maggie, diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer, went to a prominent cancer facility for a lumpectomy. When she woke up, she had a wound from nipple to underarm. Such drastic surgery was completely unnecessary for her type of cancer. A small, discreet incision would have allowed for complete removal of the tumor and for clear margins. She came to me distraught. Why did this happen? She chose the wrong team. Her team focused on only one thing, removing the cancer; they overlooked the fact that she was a young woman with a long life to live. I wish she had come to me before she made that fateful decision. Some might say, but why do you care what you look like, you have cancer! Because there is life after cancer, that’s why, and it is most often completely unnecessary to come out of it looking like a train wreck.

When I was diagnosed, I went to two prominent cancer specialists. One was lovely, but I felt I would be getting “my mother’s mastectomy”. I wouldn’t buy an out-dated cell phone and I certainly wouldn’t accept outdated cancer surgery. The second asked me if I wear evening gowns or bathing suits. Why? It was possible to perform my bilateral mastectomy from underneath the breast instead of from the side or through the middle. I researched this doctor, found out he had performed more mastectomies than any other doctor in NYS. If you are lucky enough to see my breasts, you would challenge the fact that I had surgery! I wanted a doctor who uses cutting edge thinking, someone who continues to learn new ways to perform surgery. If your doctor is not open to such discussions or dismisses your questions as frivolous, find a new team. If you are diagnosed with cancer, you need to find the specialist who is best for your type of cancer and for your needs. You owe it to yourself to get it right the first time.

I am a cancer coach; I help women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and educate about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers. I am passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.

Elyn Jacobs

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