Finding a New Oncologist

I have bad luck with oncologists.

I’ve been a blood cancer patient for almost 11 years. I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma from a biopsied lymph node near my hip. The surgeon sent the results to my general practitioner. After she gave me the news, she set up an appointment with an oncologist for the next day. I think he was just the one who could see me the soonest.

He and I got along very well. He had a great sense of humor and knew how to put me at ease, especially in those early days. He was with me through two years of watching and waiting, and then through my successful rituximab treatment. When my slow-growing cancer didn’t give us much to talk about, we’d talk about our families, and about baseball, and about the city we both used to live in. I liked him as a doctor, and I liked him as a person.

(Is it weird to say that I actually looked forward to my oncology appointments?)

The search begins

After six years, he left the practice to take a teaching job in a medical school.

I hadn’t even considered the possibility of needing a new oncologist. I guess I just assumed that my first one would last forever. I was happy that I had him for six years.

What followed was a string of unfortunate events. I was assigned to new oncologists by the office.

Oncologist #2 was the opposite of my first oncologist. He didn’t listen. It was almost like he had prepared lectures for me, and didn’t stop talking, even when I tried to interrupt him. He told me that he saw no issues with my blood work or physical exam, but then ordered a PET scan. I told him that I was worried about so much radiation, especially when there was no reason for it, but he insisted anyway. I didn’t schedule the scan, and he retired before my next appointment.

Oncologist #3 was great. He did research at the local medical school. At my first appointment with him, I asked him what excited him most about new lymphoma treatments, and he talked for 20 minutes straight. Seeing how excited he was about new treatments got me excited and hopeful. Unfortunately, at my second appointment, he told me he was leaving for his dream job at a major research center.

Oncologist #4 seemed OK, but at my one and only appointment with him, he told me that he was retiring in a couple of months.

Getting out of the revolving door

After seeing four oncologists in four years, I decided I should find my own oncologist, and not wait for the office to assign me another one. After a week of fighting with the hospital (that’s a whole other story), I got an appointment with one that I think I’m going to like. He’s young, so I know he won’t retire on me.

I realize that, in many ways, I am lucky that I even have a choice. I know there are many cancer patients who don’t, for lots of reasons. Maybe there aren’t many nearby. Maybe their healthcare system doesn’t give them a choice. But up until now, I haven’t taken advantage of my choices; I’ve gone to whichever doctor I was told to go to. This time, I was determined not to do that.

Wish me luck.

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