A guest post by an anonymous writer, which will be an ongoing series.
Please join us on her journey!
As I am now in the "monitoring" stage of my recovery, I have been reflecting more on the medical aspect of my journey, especially because I see the medical professionals so seldom now and am missing them. They became such a part of my life during the treatment portion that it can feel like another loss at times. I have come to appreciate even more the importance of a good medical team. It is rare to find one great doctor, but even more rare to be blessed with an entire team of great practitioners!
If you have to face a medical issue, it is very important to choose a team that you trust and feel supported by. If that is your case, choose carefully and do your research to get a team you deserve and that you are confident in. In my case, all of my doctors were referrals. My OB, who was notified of my cancer after the first abnormal biopsy referred me to my oncologist and the team was referred to me by my oncologist.
I have been richly blessed in this aspect of my journey, having been given an amazing medical team. Given the nature of the medical profession, with doctors not being paid well by insurance, necessity to see many patients and therefore have little time with them, it is understandable when doctors do not seem supportive or invested in each patient. This has not been the case for me. All have been outstanding. Seven specific individuals (and numerous others for mammograms, tests and many medical staff) stand out as those people who have made this journey as smooth and easy as could be expected: Dr. Brandon Riggan, my OB; Kelly Lawson, Breast Health Nurse Navigator; Dr. Pat Whitworth, my Surgical Oncologist; Norma Krantz, my Nurse Practitioner who I see for most appointments; Andrea Cooper, Occupational Therapist who specializes in lymphedema; Dr. Steve Dunesing, my Chiropractor and Dr. Daniel Hatef, my Plastic Surgeon.
Dr. Brandon Riggan, my OB referred me for my first mammogram at age 40. My second mammogram, eight months later, a follow up from the first, was the time that the calcifications that were detected on my first mammogram were possibly suspicious and I was sent for a biopsy. Those results were sent to my OB and he called me personally with the results. He told me the news gently and with compassion. I have seen him several times since, and he is always concerned with my health and pays attention to where I am on my cancer journey.
Following the call from my OB, I received a call from Kelly Lawson, Breast Health Nurse Navigator. She answered my questions and referred me to my Surgical Oncologist. I was seen by him promptly after initial diagnosis (DCIS). Since then, I have called her many times and she has always been helpful and supportive. Recently she called me to check on me and see how I am doing and where I am on my journey.
Dr. Pat Whitworth has been named a Top Doctor in his field and it is obvious why. He is very knowledgeable and took a conservative approach, which I appreciated. From my first appointment, he was thorough, compassionate and made sure I understood everything about my condition. He made sure to run many tests after my initial diagnosis to get a clear picture of my specific cancer, including hormone and genetic testing and biopsies. He was honest with me about my options and welcomed me getting a second opinion. He performed my surgery with precision and excellence and as a result I had minimal pain, fast healing and quick muscular recovery.
Norma Krantz, who I see for most follow up appointments, and who worked with Dr. Whitworth during diagnosis and prognosis is also knowledgeable, compassionate and thorough. I am completely confident that in the case of a recurrence, she would catch it early. She listens, takes time to answer questions and has a great bedside manner.
Andrea Cooper, who I saw directly before surgery and continue to see for follow up, is also an excellent practitioner. She has a great sense of humor, so appointments are enjoyable as well as thorough. She made sure I understood exercises post-mastectomy and signs of lymphedema.
My chiropractor, Dr. Steve Duensing has also been integral in this journey. I saw him directly before and after each surgery. I also see him for supplements that help with healing and inflammation. He is personable, kind, compassionate and even invited my family to his lake house to use his canoes when spring comes.
The doctor who I have had the most contact with is Dr. Daniel Hatef, my plastic surgeon. Like Dr. Whitworth, he has also received awards for his excellence. I have always felt like I was in good hands with him for my reconstruction. At my first appointment with him, he explained my options thoroughly, answered my questions and did not pressure me to make one specific decision, as I had a few options. He has also been honest about the limitations he had for reconstruction (namely the lack of fat for fat grafting). He has always struck me as a perfectionist, which gave me comfort that I would get the best result possible. He fully supported my decision to do bi-lateral mastectomy and worked with the insurance to make sure that it would be covered. He called me following my initial surgery to see how I was recovering and saw me every 1-4 weeks since February.
After my initial reconstruction (tissue expanders) I had a complication, which he took very seriously and did everything he could to help it clear up (and it did). Likewise, after another complication as a result of my second reconstruction surgery, he went above and beyond to address it, personally, even when he had no staff to help him. This is when I began to see how very much he cared and sees his patients as people. He saw me immediately and when it was obvious we would have to start over reconstruction on one side, scheduled it two days later. The day of surgery, insurance had not approved the repair. Rather than send me home and wait for it to be approved, he and his wife, along with other hospital staff, spent hours on the phone to get the insurance approved for surgery that day. He had to push back other surgeries and put me as a priority, given the situation.
In October when I asked about twin to twin fat transfer (a possibility to use my twin sister's fat for the fat grafting step of reconstruction), he was immediately on board. He has been working with me on this since then and has taken a personal interest in making it a reality. It may or may not happen, but having his support has meant a lot to me, as I was afraid to even ask him about it.
Since July and through this last surgery, December 6, he has encouraged me on many occasions. He is always responsive when I have questions, returns messages promptly and is personally available for pressing issues. I have been able to be honest about my feelings about things (reconstruction, setbacks, etc) and he has taken them seriously (both practical and emotional concerns). He has been understanding about my frustrations and done what he could to ease my mind and normalize what I was going through. If he thought anything negative about my reactions to things, he definitely never expressed that or treated me with anything but kindness.
A few months ago when I was doubting whether I should have even had reconstruction, he listened and was very encouraging. He told me to please not doubt having gone through with reconstruction and not to feel it was superfluous. He has also told me he was proud of me on a few occasions. This is rare to find in a doctor.
Another rarity with a doctor is spiritual encouragement. On several occasions he has mentioned my faith, God's plan and prayer. This is a risky thing for a doctor to do and I was comforted by these things immensely. He has read my blog posts on occasion and has expressed finding them encouraging as well. I have so appreciated the vulnerability in this.
I will forever be grateful for the blessing of Dr. Hatef. He could easily give up reconstruction and other insurance cases altogether, given his skill level, and make a lot more money as a purely cosmetic surgeon. However, he chooses to get paid very little for these cases, and for that I am extremely grateful!
I sincerely appreciate my whole medical team. This could be a lot more difficult to journey through with a less supportive team. I can really see God working and I will never forget what God has done in my life through them. I sincerely hope I will be able to keep in touch with them all.
I am counting every blessing given to me on this journey. A great medical team is not the least of these!