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Staring Down Cancer

The importance of a second opinion

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I'm writing in for Noreen to share an experience that happened this week.

A friend of mine called me to ask if I would speak to one of her good friends who was diagnosed with breast cancer recently.  In her early 40s, after a routine mammogram in December, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer – a particularly aggressive form of the disease.  She has had a lumpectomy and is scheduled to begin chemotherapy in a couple of weeks.  

We connected this weekend, and she asked me if I had any advice for her.  I am not a doctor, so I wouldn't suggest what type of chemo she should be on. I couldn’t analyze the pathology report she forwarded, but without hesitation, I had this to say:

"Go get a second opinion."

I am sharing this with all of you, because I give the same piece of advice to every woman.  Get a second opinion – and maybe even a third or fourth.

I know you are scared and tired and overwhelmed, and you barely figured out how to get through your first round of appointments.  And how are you going to find someone else to see, and where do you go, and how will you get to those appointments?  It's overwhelming, it's confusing, it's... it's....  

Listen ladies, no one is saying having breast cancer is fun. If it were, we wouldn't be fighting so hard to eradicate it.  It is awful how scary and confusing it can be when you are first diagnosed, but that is the time to make sure that you have all of the information you need to make the right decisions.

A second opinion may find you with a doctor that has access to a special trial that you wouldn't have heard of otherwise, or the doctor may recommend a less radical approach, which may be physically easier on you and still be as effective at battling your cancer.  For example, a woman I know was spared chemotherapy. The second doctor may suggest a more aggressive approach (I certainly know several whose lives were saved in this scenario), or – and this is just as important – the doctor offering the second opinion may confirm that the treatment you are seeking is the best option for you.  

The woman that called me lives in the suburbs of Chicago and was seen by an oncologist at a local hospital.  I don't know her doctor, and I am not passing judgment on him whatsoever. He may be one of the greatest oncologists.  However, she lives near a major metropolitan area with several major medical centers and the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Chicago.  I helped her navigate to find a doctor there, but she could have done it easily herself by calling the main number of the hospital and asking to be connected to the breast center – explaining that she needs to get in quickly.  You can do it too.  Most major medical institutions have a patient help line- you can use for guidance.

Is it important for my friend's friend to drive the 35 to 45 minutes to get to the University of Chicago when her doctor is only 10 minutes away?  Yes!  It's not fair, but the difference in access to treatment options, clinical trials, new technologies is much greater at the larger medical centers.  It is 110 percent worth your time too.  So please, the worst that's going to happen is that you spend a day only to find out that you are doing exactly what you should and you can continue on in peace.

It's your life. It's worth the time.