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I’m a Doctor Who Was Diagnosed With Breast Cancer & Here’s How I Coped

“You have cancer.” It’s a statement nobody wants to hear. As a doctor, I find it difficult having to give a diagnosis like this, never mind having to receive one.

I’ve now been on both sides of this life-changing diagnosis. As a medical professional, I strive to take great care in delivering diagnoses clearly, with care and compassion. The diagnosis has direct and important implications. It takes time for the news to sink in. People and their families are often in shock, the diagnosis is frightening, and the words are all new and confusing.

My own diagnosis of breast cancer in 2003 and of advanced breast cancer in 2017 gave me a new understanding of the importance of giving and receiving such a challenging diagnosis. As a patient, I feel fortunate to have much greater medical knowledge than most people. It has helped me to navigate my cancer treatments from a place of understanding. Sometimes, that knowledge means that I understand the implications of things more, which can be frightening, but knowledge is a great leveler to fear. Fear alone without knowledge is much scarier.

“…knowledge is a great leveler to fear. Fear alone without knowledge is much scarier.”

I realized it was time to check in on my practice. How well did I talk to people to give them difficult news? Was I explaining things in a way people could understand? Did I talk too much? Did I take enough time to ask what was important to them; to ask for and answer their questions and ensure they left our appointment with the confidence to undertake their treatment process? Did I provide the emotional support needed to ensure their mental health was cared for to the same extent as their physical?

I am a hematologist who specializes in bleeding and clotting with a particular focus on women’s health. Some of my patients come in with very specific medical issues such as venous thrombosis, commonly known as blood clots. When I give them the results of any medical testing, I take it as my responsibility to talk to them about what is important and develop an individualized, clear plan for their care and treatment that suits their specific needs and lifestyle.

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