In my humble opinion, I believe everyone should get a second opinion, especially when it comes to a serious or chronic illness such as cancer. It is totally normal to be consumed by fear when you are newly diagnosed. You will probably find yourself hanging on to the surgeon’s or oncologist’s every word…at least I did. I just wanted to be saved and I entrusted the doctors I had just met with my life. Getting a second opinion never even occurred to me. Had I gotten one when I was first diagnosed, I truly believe with every part of me that my circumstances and outcome would be wayyyy different. But I also believe that everything happens in Divine order, so for whatever crazy reason, everything that has happened to me is all part of my journey.
The idea of getting a second opinion can seem overwhelming at first, especially when you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It can take time and legwork to find a second doctor, arrange for the second opinion, and deal with any insurance issues that may arise. And more than likely, you will feel a sense of urgency about jumping right in and starting treatment immediately. That’s how I felt. I was diagnosed on a Monday and was in surgery two days later. I reacted to the reactions of the professionals that delivered the news that I indeed had cancer and needed surgery right away. A couple of days after my first surgery I received my pathology results and was recommended the course of treatment to take. I was diagnosed as being both ER + (estrogen positive) and HER2 + and for the next four years would be on a treatment protocol specific to this diagnosis. As you may or may not know already, almost 4 years after being diagnosed, through a series of crazy events, I discovered that I was never HER2 positive and was on all of the wrong drugs since the day I started treatment. I share this not to instill fear, but rather to emphasize the fact that doctors are not God, they are in the practice of medicine, and getting a second opinion could save your life. Had I known then what I know today, I would have done some research and sought a second opinion so I had something to compare the first one to.
I believed that I had no time and that my days were numbered, so I acted fast.
In terms of breast cancer, getting a second opinion entails asking another breast cancer specialist, or a team of specialists, to review all of your medical reports and test results from your first medical professional. You should have the following information handy:
- Pathology report
- The extent of cancer/staging
- PET/CT scan results
- The proposed course of treatment
Get the second professional’s opinion about your diagnosis, and their suggested treatment options. The second opinion will either confirm your original doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan, provide more details about the type and stage of breast cancer or raise additional treatment options you hadn’t considered. They might even recommend a different course of action altogether. This may seem overwhelming but when the first doctor’s opinion is the same or similar to the second doctor’s, your confidence will be increased. Feeling confident and assured is priceless.
And even if you’ve already had treatment, it’s not too late to get a second opinion. A second doctor can weigh in on your diagnosis and treatment plan to date, offering any additional thoughts or recommendations. Because I have metastatic disease, I have been on ongoing treatment for years. Four years into my treatment plan, when another tumor appeared in my breast, my then oncologist gave me every new treatment available for my type of breast cancer, none of which were working. Even though I had entrusted her for the last 4 years, something told me it was time for a second opinion, and in taking the steps to get one, I saved my life. I went to a breast surgeon who biopsied the new mass and concluded that I was HER2 negative, which is why I wasn’t responding to my oncologist’s treatment plan. Thankfully I followed my intuition and got that second opinion! I now have a new oncologist (thank God) who is awesome. His expertise and the right treatment have totally turned my circumstances around.
A valid opinion and an appropriate course of treatment is your best bet to return to good health or to control chronic disease.
Getting a second opinion may be difficult and uncomfortable. It may feel like you are questioning the authority or expertise of a physician and you may fear that if you appear to be a pushy or difficult patient, the doctor won’t give you the best care. But this isn’t true. And if you get the vibe from your doctor that he or she is upset about you wanting to do a little research to assure you make the right decisions for yourself, then they may not be the right fit. What I have learned over the years, is that a trusting relationship and an open line of communication with your doctor is as equally important as your course of treatment. Many people with breast cancer decide to get second opinions…doctors are used to hearing this request, especially when it comes to cancer. In fact, your doctor may be able to help you find another specialist who can provide a second opinion. Some insurance companies even require a second opinion before treatment begins. You may also fear that the time it will take to get a second opinion, or delaying the start of treatment may pose a risk to your already alarming situation, and understandably so. But in reality, there’s almost always time to get a second opinion. Your doctor can tell you how quickly your cancer needs to be addressed. Making the right choice is crucial to a positive outcome.
Gathering multiple opinions on your medical condition can be one of the most challenging decisions you may have to make, but it can also be one of the most critical ones. It’s not easy, none of this cancer crap is. But feeling confident in your doctor, treatment plan and projected outcome is invaluable. When choosing your oncologist you are essentially hiring someone to assist you in saving your life, so make sure you select the person whose expertise and character resonates with you. You will be your best advocate on this journey and returning to good health should be the one and only objective. Getting a second opinion was the best decision I ever made and my only regret is not getting one sooner.