Letter to the Doctor

Dear Friends and Family,

I just wanted to share a letter I sent to my first oncology surgeon with you. The most empowering, important lesson I have learned on this journey thus far is to take control of your medical records and your health! As most of you know, I was given my diagnosis in a very cold manner: “You have Stage I breast cancer.” That was it. He immediately recommended a mastectomy with reconstruction. I wrote him a letter weeks later, because that day will forever haunt me. Not simply because of the content of the news, but especially due to the delivery. Here is my letter:

Dear Dr. ________:

Although I am sure you have to impart bad news of cancer to many people in your week, each person you inform is hearing it for the first time (unless it’s a recurrence, which I’m sure does not make it easier). You are telling people (as a medical professional) their chances of survival. I want to help you be better at this. When you deliver the news, it is good to be factual, which you were. However, it would not hurt to be sensitive: offer tissues immediately as tears are sprung and look the patient in the eye during the conversation, not her partner.  I left your office feeling as if I was handed a death sentence.

I received a second opinion from another surgeon this week. His approach was different, although the end data was the same. He went over my pathology report line by line (it’s six pages)! He made sure I knew what “in situ” and “invasive” meant. He stressed the very good fortune that I discovered this as early as I did and told me I have time to make an informed decision. He did not press the surgery option at all. He gave me several choices: chemo, radiation, and surgery. He did tell me I need to do something: I cannot and should not let it be.  I felt empowered and hopeful when I left his office. Do not get me wrong, I know I face some serious hurdles in my future.

You strike me as a competent surgeon. However, I do not feel comfortable with you. There is absolutely no lightheartedness, no warmth or levity in our dialogue. I am blessed with an incredibly strong network of support and love within my family and friends. I am seeking the same in my medical team.

My best to you,

Caroline Chung-Wipff