What I learned as a cancer patient will make me a better doctor

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hospital corridor blue blur_oncology news australiaBy Fiona Thistlethwaite – The Guardian.

Receiving treatment at the hospital where I work made me realise that sometimes, it’s the simple things that matter.

All cancer doctors deal with harrowing stories. Like many, I had coped during my six years as a consultant oncologist at the Christie, by adopting a firm belief that it could never happen to me.

Unsurprising then, my sense of shock when, just over a year ago, I left my busy gastric cancer clinic to receive the results of my own biopsy, taken from a breast lump the week before.

If I am totally honest I knew what was coming. The mammograms and ultrasound scan had left me with little doubt, but I had clung to the slim hope it was just a big scare.

Despite years of training in clinical communication skills, I now know how it is that patients only recall the first sentence when bad news is broken. “I have the results of your biopsy and I am afraid it is not good news”, is what I heard my surgeon say. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The rest of the consultation passed in a blur.

In that moment it felt like my whole identity had been turned on its head. I was no longer a cancer doctor, I was a cancer patient with all the fears and questions that anyone faced with that diagnosis experiences: how will I cope? Who will look after the children? What will happen with work? Will my husband manage? Will I die?

In a time of bewildering uncertainty, the knowledge that the NHS machinery would kick into action and be there for me was hugely reassuring. Within two weeks I was sitting in the chemotherapy unit receiving my first cycle of chemotherapy. The efficiency and professionalism with which my case was handled lived up to high standards that I strive to attain for my own patients. We hear so much about the failings of the NHS that the many small daily achievements when things go as planned often pass by unnoticed.

As an oncologist I enjoy the challenge of resolving the dilemma of what is the best treatment for my patients. As a patient I wanted nothing more than to handover that responsibility to an expert.

Patient choice is an important driver within the NHS, but for me, more important still was having confidence in the expertise of those around me to make the right decisions on my behalf. I consider myself fortunate in that I knew who I wanted to treat me – a colleague of 10 years standing. How much harder it must be for most patients who must put blind faith in those around them.

But it was impossible to completely block out my professional background… read more.


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ONA Editor

The ONA Editor curates oncology news, views and reviews from Australia and around the world for our readers. In aggregated content, original sources will be acknowledged in the article footer.

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