Almost from the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer, we have been advised – by doctors and patients alike – to get a “second opinion”. Besides the fact that cancer of any kind is a significant medical concern, there are other good reasons—like specialization and availability of clinical trials—to let another provider weigh in.
Seeking a second opinion sounds simple enough, but that process can be disconcerting and overwhelming for patients and their families.
Even knowing where to start can be paralyzing. I’m thankful to have friends who have walked that road and were willing to help guide me through the maze.
We traveled to KU Medical Center in Kansas City for our second opinion. They functioned like a well-oiled machine, starting my appointments at 8 am sharp with imaging procedures, followed by consultations with specialized nurses, a nurse practitioner, the surgeon, a radiologist and finally the oncologist. Everyone knew their role and carried it out expertly with that rare combination of medical precision and compassionate concern.
They assessed not only my physical health but also my emotional health, a key but often overlooked component of patients traversing serious illness—especially for the first time.
One of the things that strikes me in this new world is how important it is for everyone on the health care team – from receptionists to lab techs to physicians—to remember that even though they “do” cancer all day every day, the patients and their families feel like tragedy has struck. So, while a doctor or nurse may deliver some diagnosis or direction rather matter-of-factly, the person in front of them feels like their world is spinning out of control.
From a patient’s perspective – whether perceived or real – their life is ending, or at least changing so much and so rapidly, that life as they know it is over.
This is why compassion and noticing that hurting human is critical to establishing a successful physician-patient relationship, which ultimately translates to better outcomes for all parties.
Taking time to truly listen, let the patient cry, and gather context for their response to their diagnosis, is key and it can make all the difference in someone trusting their health care team – or not.