Last month I found out that my oncologist was leaving his practice and moving to Florida. This news, like so many other pieces of information I’ve received in his office, hit me like a ton of bricks. To say I was happy with him is an understatement. While I can say I was extremely satisfied with him during my initial years of cancer management, he became my lifeline once I found out the cancer had metastasized. As supportive as my friends and family have been, he’s the one who gets it. He’s the one who I can reasonably talk to about my treatments, without constant questioning, fear, judgment, explanations, and rationalizations. For as much as I dread appointments and hate taking time out of my schedule to hang out at a cancer center, I liked seeing him. That doesn’t mean I didn’t proactively try to avoid appointments, and probably will continue to do so to the extent that I can. But he made it bearable.
Before I got cancer, if you would have asked me how important the right oncologist would be to me personally, I would have probably said not that important. I don’t need a shoulder to cry on. I’m not looking for some magical homeopathic remedy I can invest in. I don’t need someone to “sell” me their skills as a practitioner. All I seek is someone who knows the business, knows the latest published data, keeps abreast of the clinical trials, both finished and ongoing, and makes logical decisions within the current clinical guidelines. Then I got diagnosed with cancer and realized a good oncologist is so much more. I don’t know how, but my oncologist can empathize like no other. He always seems to have time, even though I’m sure he doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in an appointment thinking… “this guy has got to get going…I’m just going to stick to my few bullet points and get him moving along” …. and then he’ll ask about my family. He even gave me some unsolicited marriage advice when I told him I felt I was more irritable after a medication adjustment and he said “Yeah, that’s pretty common and many times the husband is on the receiving end of this”. He was probably more right than I’d like to admit and I made a mental note to ease up on Travis (whether Travis thinks that helped is another story). I think the hallmark of a good oncologist is the ability to listen and work with the patient as a partner in treatment. Obviously, my opinion is that my oncologist is a good listener, but I would also hear comments about his bedside manner out in the community. I began to realize that somehow I got really lucky that I got in with this guy. And as terrible as news of metastatic breast cancer is and was, I felt I had a really good team. I liked our plan. I liked the radiation oncologist he set me up with. I was hopeful.
I am set up with a different oncologist that I will meet with in a few months. Fortunately, I’m in a remission/steady state/maintenance period with my cancer and medications, so I guess it’s a good time for change if there has to be one, but I will miss Dr. Hei. One time he was commenting on my low pulse and took his own pulse, which was apparently much higher and joked “It’s because I’m always around this place”. I’ve always thought being an oncologist would be such a depressing job, but he made it light-hearted while still showing concern and giving attention to the disease.
On another note, a new season of my favorite TV series has just come up on Netflix, Stranger Things. If you ever want a visual representation of cancer, that show is it. The creatures just keep coming back and just like the mutated, cancerous cells in my body, they are eerily similar to their “normal” counterparts, but crazier, more dangerous. And they just don’t die. You think they’re gone, but they’re smart and survive very well. It’s amazing to me how indestructible cancer cells can become. Sometimes I feel like I have my own science fiction drama unfolding in my body.