Doctor-patient communication was a dominant theme in CR’s Summer 2009 issue, and we recently asked readers to tell us their personal diagnosis stories. Below are a few excerpts from some of the responses we received.
My doctor delivered the news in a most compassionate manner. He came to my house at the end of his long workday and sat next to me in our living room. With a kind voice and a gentle hand on my shoulder, he revealed the reason for my horrible pain. Through my narcotic stupor he explained that the vertebral fracture discovered by MRI and confirmed on bone marrow exam was multiple myeloma. His next sentence was short and memorable: “I’m so sorry, Jim.”
I could not have appreciated it more! He saved me a bumpy ride to his office at a time when every movement was excruciating. He is the epitome of what a doctor should be and richly deserved his nomination for Nebraska Physician of the Year.
Grand Island, Neb.
I remember every detail about my experience the day that I found out I had breast cancer. I had a biopsy on a very sunny day in San Diego, with my husband there to give support. My doctor was very kind and gentle, and told me this was the only way to find out about the very large lump in my breast, but he told me to remain calm and not to worry. He told me that the results would take two days. …
My son sat there with me while I called the doctor [for the results], and as he told me that I had breast cancer, I guess the look on my face said everything, and my son began to cry. I then called my husband, who was in a meeting, but his assistant got him out, and I gave him the news. My husband came home immediately, and we talked with our three sons. After we met with the doctor again, he wanted me to meet with him and to also get a second opinion about my options. He was reassuring and I never once felt afraid, but that I was in good hands, and that I could handle this disease and whatever it took to survive.
—Vernal H. Branch
This was in New York City in 1976. I was in the hospital and the doctor told us it was not a malignancy, it was Hodgkin’s disease. Of course I had never heard of Hodgkin’s disease and did not realize immediately that it was a form of cancer, and my doctor did not give me a chance to ask questions. I think it would have been better if he had explained what the diagnosis meant when he told me. My husband found out more [about my disease] by talking to a friend who was in medical school at the time.
St. Louis, Mo.
As a very healthy 44-year-old woman experiencing back pain, it came as a huge surprise to receive a call from one of the doctors in my medical practice to discuss the results of an MRI. The doctor, not the normal one I saw in the practice, tapdanced around the results, and said he wanted to send me to a hematologist for some blood work. The doctor didn’t say a word about cancer, but I recognized the name of the fellow he gave me as an oncologist.
Shortly afterward, I received a phone call from the doctor I liked the best in the practice. … She called me on a Sunday, outside of the normal office hours, and asked my husband and me to come in. She gently but firmly explained that our lives were about to change. … Subsequent visits to an oncologist and tests ultimately confirmed our worst fear: I had metastasized breast cancer that had gone undetected by mammograms and sonograms. I was very disappointed in the manner in which Doctor No. 1 handled the news and wished he had been straight with me. The doctor who did eventually show her cards and in plain English explain what was transpiring did so with the utmost respect and tact, and I will be forever grateful to her.
—Colleen Logan Hofmeister
I was told at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night that I had cancer. I definitely did not appreciate the way I was told. … As the doctor knew what he was going to tell me, it could have been better delivered and at a more appropriate time. Nothing could be done over the weekend—this could have waited until Monday morning, when support services were more readily available. After completing treatments, I changed doctors! I did however return and ask the doctor to think about how news of a cancer diagnosis is delivered—I hope he did.
Kanwal, New South Wales, Australia
To participate in CR’s reader feedback and possibly have your comments published in a future issue, join our free e-newsletter list.