How Did Your Doctor Break the News About Your Breast Cancer?

There was a jarring story in HealthDay recently about a survey that found doctors do a poor job telling patients they have cancer. One woman got the news in a voice mail; another heard when she was told she needed to schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon. When she asked why, her doctor said because she had a brain tumor and hung up. Two words–bedside manner.

The HealthDay article said that doctors often drop this bomb on people in public settings or over the phone. My doctor told me over the phone because I wanted him to. They didn’t get the results until the day before I was scheduled to leave on a business trip, and I didn’t want the uncertainty hanging over me for a second weekend (my biopsy was on Friday of the previous week–not real swift scheduling on my part). He called me around 6 that evening so we could talk without interruption.

I really didn’t mind getting the news over the phone. I mean, if he had said come in so we can talk he would have given it away–so just tell me. Voice mail would be a different story. You don’t drop something like that on someone in a voice mail. That’s just common sense and common courtesy.

Disclosure: I wasn’t the best about telling my husband Bruce when I flunked my second mammogram and found out I needed a biopsy. I was trying to figure out how to tell him after work that day when he happened to mention a colleague’s wife needed a biopsy. I thought, “Great, here’s my opening,” and blurted, “I need a biopsy too.” While a biopsy isn’t quite the shock the cancer diagnosis is, it might be good to preface news like that with a bit of a warning.

I’m curious to hear how this went for others. If anyone has stories you’d like to share about how you got the news–whether it was cancer or another big diagnosis–please feel free to share your comments.

Update: In a post several weeks ago, I talked about how I didn’t agree with the coding for my most recent mammogram. They had coded it as a diagnostic mammogram instead of a routine screening, so I was responsible for the full covered amount. The screening would only require a co-pay. I asked them to audit the code, and they did. I just got a revised bill that says I am responsible for $14.50 instead of $145. The moral of that story is to keep your eye on those bills.

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3 thoughts on “How Did Your Doctor Break the News About Your Breast Cancer?

  1. I developed a condition called Transverse Myelitis in the summer of 2005. I found out later that it was clear at that time that the TM was caused by Multiple Sclerosis. But no one told me.

    Instead the condescending little snot of a neurologist told me I was “too old” for MS at 50. That I had “possible” MS. He did not tell me my spinal cord was alight with old MS lesions.

    I switched neurologists. I liked the next one I went to, a pleasant young woman. But even she did not tell me. Six months later, a relapse landed me back in the hospital. She was standing at the bottom of my bed and told me there was something on my brain in the new MRI.

    Me: So does that mean I have it?
    Her: Looks like it.

    And she left. Neither one of us even used the words Multiple Sclerosis.

    So that is how I was told. Crazy.

    I’m now on my third neurologist,

    • That’s awful! I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but thank you for sharing. I think stories like yours help us appreciate the good ones when they come along. I was lucky I didn’t have some hallway “drive-by” when I got the news about my DCIS, my family doctor told me and I’ve been with him for more than 15 years. But my first oncology consult was a bit of “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.” I didn’t go back. Outcome was the same, but the doctor who is now my oncologist is much more compassionate.

  2. It sounds like we have ultimately been fortunate in our providers. But it is such a battle to find the right ones! And when you are sick and vulnerable it is overwhelming.

    On my blog I wrote a four part piece on the saga I went through getting diagnosed (My Journey to MS). The communication was appalling. I can understand it must be hard to give people bad news. But I would counter with, that’s what you get paid the big bucks for!!

    Thanks for the kind words, Jackie. 🙂

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