After a week of tumultuous breathing, I decided to phone my doctor Tuesday afternoon to see if I could arrange an earlier appointment. One of the support staff answered and asked to place me on hold while she checked the calendar. But she wasn’t just doing that; she was also speaking to my nurse and the doctor I saw Friday during my impromptu visit. Returning to the phone, she asked ‘what’s going on, hon?’ I explained that while I wasn’t in distress like Friday, my breathing continued to worsen, and I didn’t want to wait until the 19th to see the doctor. She asked me to hold again, and a few moments later my nurse came on the phone. She asked me a few questions and offered to call-in a script for something to help me sleep. My doctor’s first day back from vacation was the following day, and she said he could see me at 8:30 am.
Every contact I have with my medical team is thoughtful and thorough. Even my request to reschedule an appointment was handled with concern for my well-being and not just an ordinary calendar update.
Many people are shocked when they learn I’m not being seen at a university hospital or at least by group who advertises on TV. I completely understand! We are led to believe that large practices are the only ones equipped to treat cancer. And while those places are spectacular, I’m here to tell you that small, private groups are providing great and compassionate care.
While awaiting my hospital discharge on that momentous diagnosis day, I met my oncology nurse and asked her, “how do I get other opinions?” It was an awkward question to ask, but I’ve never been one to shy away from those, and cancer sure as hell wasn’t going to change that. After all, everyone knows you should ‘always get a second opinion.’ In fact, I’m confident it is the ONLY thing everyone knows about cancer! But here is what you may not know and why it can be difficult:
- You have to collect (or at least sign the releases) for all your medical records and films. For many patients this means gathering information from various healthcare networks over numerous physical locations.
- You should make sure your insurance company is going to pay for the second opinion visit. (Truthfully, I didn’t even call them. I was going to meet with the ‘best surgeon around,’ and if I had to pay out-of-pocket, I would.)
- You wonder if you are going to offend the first doctor. I hadn’t even met the oncologist, and I was already asking the nurse how to get other opinions.
When I was first diagnosed, we assumed the cancer was operable. My brother was immediately on the case to find a great doctor. Seth and I started scouring websites and asking friends to figure out which of the university and large care centers is best for lung cancer surgery. By 9 pm that night, my brother had made contact with one of the country’s best thoracic surgeons. At 8 am the following morning, I was on the phone with his personal assistant. I scheduled my ‘second opinion’ appointment for the day after I would meet my oncologist for the first time.
At my first visit with my oncologist, he asked if I had any other appointments scheduled. I explained that I did and with whom. Not only was the support staff happy to collect my records for me, my oncologist called the surgeon before my ‘second opinion’ appointment to discuss my case with him! I was afraid I was going to be in the middle of feuding doctors, but instead they seemed to embraced the opportunity to discuss a new (and very interesting) patient.
I now feel it’s a pretty straightforward process. If I want a second opinion at any step along the way, I’m not going to be shy about getting one. My doctor’s practice works with all the major medical centers in the region, so if I need a unique procedure they will recommend the place they feel is best. I like to think of it as ‘cancer care a la carte!’ I get great guidance, and the final decisions are mine to make.