Demystifying Your Oncologist

Christopher Lukas Health Guide
  • As most authors do, I went on a radio tour when my book on prostate cancer was published. One of the stations that asked me to do a telephone interview was halfway across the country. I’d never been there; I didn’t know the station or the host; and I didn’t know the urologist who came on to discuss my views.

    It was all very polite and earnest, and I felt that the urologist was taking my ideas seriously, and didn’t push his MD in my face. For my part, I was very careful to make sure the audience understood that I wasn’t a physician, didn’t have any training in this field, but that I had done my reading and my research. And I’d been through the ropes of actually having prostate cancer and having it treated.
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    During the interview, however, a peculiar thing happened: more and more jargon began entering the discussion. The urologist started using terms of the physician’s art. He talked about “milliliters of PSA” and particular ducts and physiological terms that seemed – to me – to be distancing him more and more from the listening audience. I thought about this when I remembered one of my visits to my own oncologist at the beginning of my treatment. The doctor had a “fellow” in the room with him (the term used for someone in training for this specialty) and he began using some high-flown language when he discussed my case with this junior physician. I thought how unpleasant that was and wondered why he couldn’t keep the language to an everyday level.

    Looking back, I think it was a way of making sure that I understood that I was just “the patient,” and he was the “man who cures.” He actually used that word, “cure,” whereas my lymphoma oncologist never says that. For him, it’s always, “We can treat this cancer, but we can’t cure it.”

    I’m not sure that prostate cancer can be cured; I’m not positive it always needs to be cured – or always even treated – but by telling me that it could, this oncologist set himself on a high plane, offering me something that any fool would want: a cure.

    The point is, it’s difficult enough to confront cancer of any kind without setting the nerves ajitter; we don’t need to be put at a psychological and professional distance from our doctors.

    I’m sure most of us have a mixed feeling about doctors. We want them to talk to us in common language, but we also want to have them so powerful that they can protect us from pain and death. With prostate cancer, however, it seems to me it’s important to maintain our own autonomy. This is not something that’s likely to kill us – not in the short run, maybe not even in the long run. If we read, from time to time, of men who have died from prostate cancer, it’s a small proportion, and not always the result of lack of treatment. Sometimes, treatment won’t help. And, often treatment just isn’t necessary….

    So, get that second opinion. Think about what you’re really being told. And don’t let a urologist’s ego get in the way of you and your family making decisions about your body.

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Published On: July 06, 2006