Fighting a disease, especially cancer, can steal a huge portion of your life. To make cancer more dreadful, it does affect you not only physically but also mentally. The support of your family and friends will serve as your strength — they will be your reason to keep fighting. Doctors are also a huge contributor to how you feel about your disease. For this reason, patients need a caring and reassuring doctor. Someone who helps them face the reality of their condition but is never inconsiderate of the patient’s feelings. Rather than making a person feel bad about overthinking, they should provide answers that either disprove or confirm those thoughts.
Doctors are expected to answer questions with care, consideration, and accuracy, but some are blatantly arrogant. Sarah McDonald, a now cancer survivor, had such an experience with her doctor. She was called a hypochondriac during a medical checkup by a radiologist back in 2012. Apparently, before visiting the doctor’s clinic, Sarah had felt a lump on the floor of her mouth. She first consulted her dentist and was told it might just be an infection. The dentist gave her antibiotics, but a rare cancer was also mentioned during the examination. That’s when it bothered her even more, so Sarah made an appointment with her doctor.
Rather than receiving clarifications, her radiologist insisted that it wasn’t cancer. “I came into the clinic, and he was showing off to all the other doctors. He was being dismissive and told me, “There’s no way this is cancer, you’re such a hypochondriac,” but he hadn’t looked at my scans,” the former eBay exec shared. It was downright dismissive and offensive. It’s not delightful to have a lump in your mouth, but a doctor does not want you to worry about it. How could someone not worry when there was no clear answer about the lump? Five days later, the doctor called Sarah again, telling her he was wrong and that it was incurable cancer.
Sarah had many questions that needed an answer, but the dismissive doctor could not give her one. The doctor said he won’t be able to provide her prognosis until she undergoes surgery. “Then he said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re a smart girl, you’ll figure it out,’ and then we hung up. I was done with him,” she said. After receiving a letter of recommendation for a specialist, Sarah brought her scans to another clinic. Aside from confirming that her condition was adenoid cystic carcinoma which affects her salivary gland, another cancer crossed Sarah’s mind. Six years ago, she had
a mammogram, sonogram, and biopsies after discovering a lump on her breast. Doctors told her it was not cancer, but she had the urge to be re-examined.
The cancer patient inquired to her surgeon and was told, “He said, ‘If it’ll make you feel better, you should go and check it out,’ which really made me feel like a hypochondriac, like I’m making too much of it,” she explained. “But I thought to myself I needed to know for peace of mind.” Two months later, her gut feeling was proven true because she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Since then, the wonder mum has battled two cancers and endured all treatments that eventually led her to heal. She shared the intense procedure of handling radiation for her mouth and then undergoing chemotherapy for her breasts.
Sarah strongly pushed through the treatments even though her mouth was terribly bleeding and breaking from the radiation. Eating became a dreadful experience, so she had to pause chemotherapy and extend the process by four months. “At some point, I had something like 21 canker sores in my mouth, with one that was like the size of a dime on the back of my tongue,” she explained. Sarah also revealed that the process might be physically exhausting, but it was still much more bearable than her mental state. She deemed those months as the most challenging moments of her life. Anxiety fully enveloped her, which made Sarah do yoga, meditation, acupuncture, energy work, and guided imagery.
After a year of dealing with an unclear prognosis and wearying treatments, the woman has finally broken out of the chains of cancer. During those 14 months, she learned a lot, especially about doctors. Sarah clarified that she did not nurture any grudge toward her doctors. Even though they are professionals, they are still humans who make mistakes. “As jerky as I felt that first doctor was, he didn’t do any of that on purpose, and my OBGYN and the surgeon that misdiagnosed my (breast) cancer, none of that was done on purpose, they were not out to get me,” the cancer warrior stated.
Her battle with cancer has truly given her additional knowledge in life. Those lessons are now compiled in her self-written book, The Cancer Channel. She was inspired to be a person who can console other cancer patients through the words she has written. Battling two cancers in a year motivated her to pay it forward. Her book can enlighten and validate patients on the list of things not to say to someone with cancer. It’s a self-help book reminding everyone that they don’t deserve to be called hypochondriacs. Sarah’s book can be a lovely gift for a loved one with cancer and an added emotional support — a light amidst the dark tunnel of adversity.