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.
August 2004, S. P.