Doctor Patient Relationship in Cancer – Does It Make A Difference?

The doctor-patient relationship matters especially in cancer patients.  That has always been my theory based on emails I receive from breast cancer patients.   The women who tell me they love their doctors, trust their doctors, and feel confident that they are placing their lives in their physicians’ hands, always seem like they are doing better emotionally and even physically through cancer treatment and beyond.  Often, when I get a letter from a woman who is really having a rough time, I ask her how her relationship is with her Oncologist or Surgeon.  Nine times out of ten, they admit to me that their confidence level is low, and they have thought about changing doctors but are afraid to do so. Now I have a study to prove my theory:

Lacking trust in one’s doctor affects health of emotionally vulnerable cancer patients

July 22, 2014
Health Behavior News Service
The physical and mental well-being of people with cancer may be affected by how they feel about their relationship with their physician and by differences in attachment styles, finds a new study. Patients who feel anxious and uneasy with their doctor may be impacted the most. “Anxiously attached patients may experience and report more physical and emotional problems when the relationship with their physician is perceived as less trusting,” said the lead author.
It always surprises me when most people go to buy a car, they will go to many dealerships, do much internet research along with asking opinions of family and friends, test drive numerous brands and models of cars, and finally make a decision based upon what they learned and how they feel about the car they are choosing.  Frequently, they will travel to another town or state to check out other dealerships because their level of trust is not good for their local dealership or because they can get a better deal.   Often, if you ask someone who has just purchased a new car why they chose that brand, they will say, “It just felt right for me, and I liked it.”
For most people diagnosed with cancer or any serious illness, they may spend far less time choosing their doctors than they would buying a car.  Why?  These are the answers I hear most often:
  • Fear of my diagnosis and needing to just get to any doctor so the job can be done quickly
  • Insurance – maybe my insurance won’t pay somewhere else
  • Convenience – I don’t want to inconvenience my family by going to more doctor appointments.  Staying close to home is just easier

Those issues are all very, very real.  But in most cases, you do have choices.  Remember, you are hiring the doctor, you or your insurance company are paying the doctor, and they work for you! doctor-patient-team-17525513 I so admire cancer patients who change doctors mid-stream because “something just didn’t feel right.”    It takes a lot of additional courage to do that, but your life is at stake.  If you have ANY reservations about your physicians, get another opinion.  Or better yet, get two opinions. If you have a great team of doctors, I would love for you to post and tell me about them!  Or if you had to change doctors, I would also appreciate hearing about this!


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  1. I just changed Plastic Surgeons! It’s hard to switch mid stream, but it just felt ” off ” . I am in the last stretch of surgeries, Port removal, nipple reconstruction, scar revisions (one on breast from a long battle with Breast infection post-op), and a hernia repair ( from popped abdominal stitches). At my pre-op appoint for consent forms they failed to have half the procedures scheduled. Something was just telling me it wasn’t right, something was off. After a week of not hearing back on whether or not the remaining procedures were approved, I called and got the run around, so I fired them. I can’t count the number of times I had to restate that I was done with treatment, that I wanted the port removed, and hernia repaired, nobody would chart anything.
    Dang it, I am on the last stretch, I have plans, I want to start the new year with all of this behind me, I am doing the Avon Walk for a Cure in April. It’s 39.3 miles and I need to train, but I can’t do that till this dang hernia is repaired.
    So I found a new Plastic Surgeon and hopefully all of this will be behind me in the next few months !

    • Trish, I actually stood up and applauded when I read your comment. It takes
      SO MUCH COURAGE to change mid stream, but you followed your gut and did what
      you needed to do! GOOD FOR YOU!! I know the new Plastic Surgeon will be a
      better match for you!
      Good for you for having those plans in place for next year! You inspire and
      motivate all of us! THANK YOU! Denise

      • Denise, I am so glad I listened to my gut ! I met with my new Plastic Surgeon and oh my word I am so happy. It was the best decision I could have made. This new PS has had BC touch his life very personally, so he has an unique perspective on BC Patients. He is not only going to do all that I ask, but is going a few steps further in my reconstruction. During Chemo I had to battle a breast infection on my left side and it left that side smaller, as well as a ” crevice”. He has decided he is going to do a fat transplant to fix the left side so it will come close to matching the right side. My last PS never even considered it or mentioned it, to him it was just a thing that happens, and something I would have to get use to. He is also determined to do a scar revision on the right side that has a slightly larger than normal scar due to tissue damage during surgery. It is something I was not concerned about because it’s not that big and I am doing personal tattoos to cover it, he however is determined to make it as small as possible.
        His office staff is terrific and worked magic to ensure I was in surgery BEFORE Thanksgiving, when normally he is booked a month out for surgery.
        I have to say, if you don’t listen to your gut, and fight for what’s right for your care, you may loose out on the best there is! My only regret is I did not find him sooner.

      • Oh Trish, THIS IS FABULOUS NEWS! I am so happy for you! Thanks for the lessons –
        you have to listen to your gut and do what is best for you!! I am so proud of you
        and happy you have been led to the right place! You just know!
        Please keep us posted about how things go! Wishing you the very best! Denise

      • I am currently on the hunt for a new Oncologist. I think I deserve one who is just as concerned with the quality of my life as they are the quantity of life I have left. The one I have now, is all about her studies, and cookie cutter patients. Well that I am not. Her fix all was Effexor, and yes it did work to an extent, but came with some gnarly side effects. I am going to talk to m Plastic Surgeon in a couple weeks, to see if he works with any directly. I am over being used for clinic studies, and forced to follow rigid guidelines, and fear of stepping outside the box..

  2. I found the lump on Monday. My primary doctor worked me in and told me that this couldn’t wait. I was to call her office to schedule appointments if I couldn’t be seen right away. On Wednesday I had a mammogram and ultrasound. The radiologist told me that I had breast cancer and he was certain that it had already metastasized. He sent me across the street to the surgeon’s office with my films in my hand. The surgeon worked me in to her schedule and I had 18 biopsies done that day. My surgeon got the path report back on Thursday. On Friday I met my oncologist.The next week was filled with appointments for tests. The following Tuesday I got a port and then I started chemo exactly 2 weeks from the day that I was diagnosed. I did not have time to think, to research, to plan, nothing. My surgical oncologist picked my medical oncologist and reconstruction surgeon and my radiologist. My reconstruction surgeon is an arrogant jerk, but he built a beautiful breast. When I tell medical people who my doctors are I get a surprised pause and then they tell me that I have the top doctors in the field in the whole region. My dermatologist called me and asked me who my team is when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I got the same response from him. I have considered leaving all of them one time or another, but usually it’s over office staff issues and not the doctors themselves. After 10 years of being NED, office visits seem like going to visit friends. I have been very, very blessed with the team that I have.

    • Lisa, thanks for sharing your story! It is heartening to hear about a team
      put together with no decisions having to be made by the patient, and it worked! Congratulations
      on 10 years of being NED (no evidence of disease)!! That is quite a milestone!
      And having great doctors certainly helped getting you to that point!

      Thanks for the reminder for others that sometimes your dispute can be with office staff
      and not the doctors!!

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