Yes, Virginia, You Need A Second Opinion

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, certain things have become accepted practice. One is that you take someone to appointments with you because you’ll be too jacked up to process what the doctor says. Another is that you get a second opinion.

While I can vouch for both, I want to focus on the second opinion. I won’t go into all the reasons why it’s a good idea; you can find those through any number of resources. I want to explain why it made sense for me.

I assumed I’d get a second opinion when it was time to talk to an oncologist about treatment. But once I did, getting a second opinion felt urgent, because I didn’t like the recommendation or the way it was delivered.

I should back up the truck and explain that I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, a very early stage cancer that is not invasive, although it can become invasive if not treated. It’s often successfully treated with a combination of breast-conserving surgery and radiation. I assumed I would be on this path until two surgeries didn’t get the desired results. Oncologist No. 1, after taking a family history, said, “I know you don’t want to hear this but I think you need a mastectomy.” I’ll spare you the details but the conversation went downhill from there. I felt like I had been sucker-punched.

On to the second opinion, who became my oncologist. The difference was night and day. The first doctor spent 20 minutes and was direct to the point of being blunt. The second one spent an hour and 20 minutes and said I had options, which was exactly what I needed to hear. He ended up making the same recommendation as the first doctor, but told me he would support me if I opted for radiation and surveillance. I chose the mastectomy and have no regrets.

An important thing to remember about second opinions is that even though their recommendations may be the same, you may find one doctor’s style suits you much better than another’s. You will spend a lot of time with him or her and you need to be comfortable. So get that second opinion and don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. It’s your body, your life, and your choice.


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