Monday, October 26, 2009

Learning to Speak Up

Sometimes people say the stupidest things to breast cancer survivors. Unfortunately, sometimes the people who make the worst utterances are doctors.

Recently, my husband's cousin was in a pretty bad accident. She is a stage four breast cancer survivor as well, although only for about 4 years. She doesn't remember much of the accident--someone ran a red light and hit her as she was making a left hand turn on a green arrow. The impact drove her into another car. She suffered a broken foot, a severely shattered wrist, and several hairline fractures on her spine.

The day after the accident, a doctor came into her room and told her about the breaks and in addition said "We also see something else, but it might be cancer." With that, he left. He wasn't an oncologist. He wasn't even a specialist in reading MRIs. No explanation...he just dropped this tidbit of information and left.

She was in pretty fragile shape to begin with and to have him say this was just unconscionable, particularly when he hadn't ascertained that this was indeed the problem.

It brought me back to the time when I had my mastectomy. I was in my room when the resident and his little herd of doctors in training came in. He bruskly looked at me and said "Well, you didn't have anything important removed, so you'll be going home tomorrow." Hmm...I wonder what he would have to say if I had removed one of his "not very important parts." I didn't quibble with the fact that I was going home and I realized that what he was saying was that I didn't have any abdominal areas opened or whatever, but this was a pretty insensitive thing to say, and I told him so. In no uncertain terms in front of his students.

If we as patients don't speak up when something idiotic or insentitive is said, then how will anyone ever learn?

Words can be pretty dangerous. We are fighting enough, we don't need the extra burden of thoughtless comments.

The image on this page is a datura plant. It had been given to me and I over wintered it...or tried to. I thought it was dead and tossed it on the compost heap...only to discover it growing like crazy. It is a plant I don't particularly care for. It is HUGE..or at least it grew huge in my compost heap. It has prickly fruit on it which produce copious seeds. The entire plant is poisonous. This plant has the same effect as thoughtless, painful words. They are thrown out, they grow and can pop back and make you sick. We need to weed them out.

Here's more on datura.


  1. I believe that doctors should go through courses on bedside manners. Patients aren't just another chart. I had a friend go through something similar a few weeks ago. No kindness. I hope your friend is well. Just stumbled upon your page.

  2. Thanks, Renee. She is getting better. She will be out of work for three months and is still in a lot of pain.

    I hope you enjoy my blog. I hope to post at least once a week on this side...

  3. I heard a term 'P-WAC' - for 'people without a clue'. And that we as cancer survivors must educate these people so they improve their attitude for the next person they deal wtih...

  4. Thank you for sharing. You are so right to point out that our care takers are very important people to the patients. I was very blessed to have the very top of the line in cancer care to a patient by the Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX. My oncologist, Dr. Kaplan, and his staff were all so caring and experts in their fields. Nothing was left undone or unanswered.

    Congradulations on your 11 years.

  5. Beth, love the PWOC...wonderful!!

    Teatime, thanks so much! Glad to hear you were able to get the care you needed. It IS a blessing to have good doctors and staff and good hospitals near us...that's not always the case, even in the U.S.A.

  6. Speaking up is important - it is a quick way for the residents and others to learn, and it allows you to express yourself and not let things get bottled up inside. You may want to check to see if the hospital has a "patient and family centered care" philosophy/office. I get treatments through the Univ. of Washington Med. Center and am on the inpatient oncology council. It is amazing what our relatively small council can get done - especially since the hospital really has a patient and family centered care philosophy.
    When a piece of information is given, and not
    expanded upon, it can really scare the patient (and their family members). I am glad your relative is doing well. I hope she has disability insurance, so the time off work is not as much of a financial hardship as it could be.
    I came to your website through your quilting one.
    Cheers to you,
    Ellen Lorenzen
    Redmond, WA

  7. Thanks, Ellen. She's fine. She's an engineer with Wright Patterson AFB and is fairly high up. Other than having cancer, she hasn't used sick leave much at all and she has a lot built up. For people who don't have a cushion, you are so correct, prolonged absences would be devastating.

    If I hadn't been married to my husband, but still working as a museum curator or been single, the cancer treatment payments, even just the co-pays, would have been absolutely about of my ability to pay.