Individuals with breast cancer often seek contact with other patients and want to know how they dealt with the disease. Read about the experiences of other patients here. We will be happy to put you in touch with former patients on request.
S. P. writes about her breast cancer diagnosis
When I went looking for a new doctor a few years ago, I was really only thinking about having regular screening checks. As my previous lab results had occasionally been a little suspect, I was going for checks twice a year at that stage, to be on the safe side.
After the first few visits to his practice, the doctor soon tried to convince me of the merits of his other medical services, particularly his anti-aging practice. I had a sense that the balance between medical prevention and commercial interest was a little out of kilter and my gut instinct told me to change doctors, but I kept putting off the decision to avoid all the inconvenience involved.
In the early summer of this year I went back for a routine check-up. During the examination the doctor diagnosed a tumour in my right breast. A mammogram was performed the very same day. The x-ray image revealed a 2 cm-sized carcinoma.
Naturally I wondered why such a large tumour, (which according to the subsequent surgical report actually measured 3.5 cm long) was not picked up at an earlier stage, especially as I had been going for routine checks twice a year. Perhaps it might have been possible to detect it earlier if the same amount of time spent trying to persuade me to make use of his anti-aging services had been devoted to the actual examination.
A biopsy of the tumour was arranged for the next working day. Beforehand, the doctor tried to talk me into a written agreement to undergo a breast operation in the clinic where he is described as medical director of the breast surgery centre. The only additional comment he made was that he would operate with breast conservation in mind; he made no other reference to this or any other procedures.
I felt this approach was an unfair attempt to exploit my situation, as he was trying to commit me in advance to using medical facilities that he managed himself. When I refused to agree to this and explained that I would always seek several independent opinions before making a decision on an issue as life changing as this, he showed very little understanding of my point of view.
All I can say about the ensuing biopsy is that the pain I experienced when tissue was removed was almost unbearable, even though local anaesthetic was administered twice. This was then followed by a dispute over the time it took for the results of the biopsy to be submitted.
I had the distinct impression that notification of the biopsy results was delayed for as long as possible, so that I would have less time to use them in discussion with other providers. It was only after hefty protests on my part that the lab report was finally faxed through to me the following day. The result: a malignant tumour. Although this terrible news initially made me feel quite numb, I was immediately aware that I had to do everything possible to find the best surgical and therapeutic methods for my particular condition.
After doing some research online and with the support of Medgate, I selected a number of clinics described as competent treatment centres for breast cancer that I could consult in Switzerland or neighbouring countries. During each of these consultations, I received comprehensive information about the different surgical and therapeutic methods, including their respective advantages and disadvantages. Each clinic gave me advice based specifically on the results I showed them and none of them tried to pressurise me to go to their particular clinic.
About one week after the biopsy, I then made my decision and advised my doctor that I had decided to seek treatment elsewhere. A few days later I was totally taken aback by a letter of reply from my doctor, accusing me, along with a general lecture, of being ungrateful. For the life of me, I cannot see that I owe this doctor any gratitude whatsoever. I can only interpret his disappointment in me that he expressed in his letter as being his disappointment at losing the potential income related to my breast surgery. For me the only question remaining is: what kind of doctor would even think of writing such a letter to a former patient not long after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer?
The rest of the story is short and sweet. I decided to have the operation performed by Dr George at the Pyramid Clinic in Zurich. I had a good feeling right from the start that I was in the best possible hands and today, about two months after the operation, I am sure that I made the right decision. The same applies, incidentally, to the treatment I received in Zurich from Dr Bättig, the oncologist.
B. I. writes about her breast cancer diagnosis
In the preceding few months I had met or read about women who had had breast cancer and subsequently recovered from it. It was a great help to me to learn of these encouraging examples. I also became aware that not a great deal is known about the role of plastic surgery, but I find this a very worthwhile option, especially long term. I would like to pass on my experience of it to encourage women to be well informed before they undergo any surgical procedure. Last summer I had a lump in my breast. My doctor organised a mammogram at the local hospital. A short time later I was told that this lump would have to be removed and examined. The first operation took place at the same hospital. Shortly afterwards, the doctor in charge informed me that I had breast cancer and would require another operation.
I went almost numb and simply could not understand it. I had been healthy for many years, was in the prime of my life and had a wide range of responsibilities. I needed time to accept this fact.
In the preceding years I had increasingly learnt, in both a personal and professional sense, to adopt a positive attitude to life and make the most of my resources. How could this help me in the situation I faced now?
I knew little about breast cancer. The doctor who performed the first surgical procedure did not have much time for me. I had to really fight for any appointment times to discuss what was important to me. I wanted to give myself time to gain more information and have a good feeling about agreeing to any further surgery. People always say, too, that you should seek a second opinion before any operation.
For me it was clear that I wanted to recover – God willing. The second priority was for my breast to look as good as possible. The breast is the most visible feminine organ and is very much associated with what it means to be a woman. It was also very important for me to establish a rapport with the surgeon.
Friends and relatives recommended two doctors to me. One was a gynaecologist and the other was Dr George, an excellent plastic surgeon. The first doctor wanted to take a breast-conserving approach to surgery, but also indicated that, in the final analysis, it might be necessary to remove the whole breast. Dr George suggested removing the breast in my case, and reconstructing it during the same operation. He showed me examples of others reconstructions he had done in similar situations. This was not at all like the result I had been left with after the first procedure. After hearing what he had to say, I had a good, calm feeling about it all.
I decided to go ahead with Dr George’s suggestion. The operation went well from my point of view. The week of bed rest also followed without any complications. I was in competent hands and also in an environment where I was lucky enough to experience a great deal of personal attention, tact and friendliness.
Back in my own home, I had time to digest it all. On the one hand I was glad that I had now had breast cancer. The dangerous tumour was gone and in its place I had been given the shape of a new breast. I did not have to suffer a period of emptiness or a feeling of being incomplete. This meant I did not lose too much in the way of energy or inner resources. I could use these to help me come to terms with the grief that still kept surfacing from time to time, and to face the next steps in the process.
I was very apprehensive about the next phase – chemotherapy – but I was fortunate enough to find in Dr Bättig, as my oncologist, another doctor with great professional competence and a positive, caring manner. I have since survived the dreaded months of chemo surprisingly well.
I am currently still having radiotherapy but I am confident that this phase will also come to a positive end.
Looking back, I am very glad that I was well informed – if only on the second attempt – and that I took my feelings and long-term needs seriously. It certainly took some courage.
Today I am thankful that things are going well for me, given the situation, and that my reconstructed breast looks good. Despite this surgical procedure, I still feel like a woman. The positive things I have experienced throughout this often difficult time have made me much stronger as a person and I’m now looking to the future with confidence.