a woman holding her phone and thinking about her doctor

How Did You Get the News?

The one thing that unites everyone reading this is that they – or a loved one – have heard a doctor say the words, “You have cancer.”

It’s a club most of us would rather not be a part of.

I was in a discussion with some cancer friends recently, when the topic of “How did you get the news?” came up. And then a debate: is it better to get the news in person, or by phone?

How I got my follicular lymphoma diagnosis

My own story is similar to a lot of follicular lymphoma patients’ stories. Because FL is an indolent, slow-growing disease, it kind of sneaks up on people. A lot of times, we received the diagnosis when we were being treated for something completely different.

For me, it was a lump near my hipbone. My general practitioner sent me to a surgeon, who biopsied a lymph node. The surgeon sent the results to my GP, and she was the one who gave me the news. When it happened, it seemed like everything my GP did was the wrong thing. (It still feels that way.)

I got the call at about 11:00am. “The biopsy results are in,” she said over the phone. “Why don’t you come in so we can talk about them.”

“Maybe you should just tell me now,” I said. Obviously, this was bad news, or she wouldn’t have wanted to see me. But she insisted I come in, so I made an appointment for 2:00pm.

My wife and I went to the doctor’s office, and we were led into an exam room. And then… we waited. A full half-hour. For someone who thought it was important to see me in person, the doctor made me wait a long time. It was agonizing. I knew the news wasn’t good. But I didn’t know what exactly the news was.

Opening the exam room door, the first thing the GP said to us was, “Stressed?” (Yes, as a matter of fact, we are, thanks very much.) She gave us the diagnosis, explained that it was a form of blood cancer, and told us she’d set up an appointment with an oncologist. When we asked any questions about follicular lymphoma, she refused to answer and told us the oncologist was the best person to ask.

Cancer diagnosis by phone call or face to face?

Back to my question: Almost all of my cancer friends said they would rather get the news face-to-face. I guess, in theory, that would have been good. But for me, I kind of got the news without getting the news. It felt like I had three hours of unnecessary worrying that I could have used to start dealing with the problem (especially since the doctor didn’t answer my questions anyway).

So I’d like to put the question to you: how did you get the news, and would you have rather gotten it a different way?

Lessons learned

I do my best to learn from any bad experience I’ve had.

And the lesson I learned here, from quite literally the moment I found out I had cancer, was to ask for what you want and make sure you get it.

The days and weeks after diagnosis are messy. Our minds are everywhere. But now, after years as a cancer patient, I know what I want and what I need.

And I make sure I get it.

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