A Diagnosis on Doctors


So now I have this ugly ‘mole’ on my back that could be lethal.  We knew the depth of it but we had no idea how far progressed it was.  All we could do was speculate…painfully speculate.

My dermatologist hypothesized that it was early stage and with removing wider margins I would likely never have to worry about it again.  He joked that I should avoid vacationing in warm climates and start booking future vacations at the North Pole.

What an ass, I thought.  Were all doctors this insensitive?

It was clear he didn’t realize just how fearful I was.  I didn’t appreciate the joke but I understood that he was detaching himself emotionally, perhaps deliberately, from all of this.  I would later learn that most physicians remain emotionally detached from their patients.   I do understand why they distance themselves from the emotions and the psychology of their interactions with patients.  But it is nonetheless hurtful from the receiving end – from where I stand.

Here began my journey with an endless spectrum of specialists and therapists.

Off I went to an appointment with a plastic surgeon to have a wider excision performed around the original spot.  I remember joking with Lynne that maybe this surgeon could give me bicep implants at the same time (humor had become scarce so it felt good to laugh).  Humour has always been one of my primary defense mechanisms.  If I get scared or anxious I make a joke about it.  Not always a crowd pleaser!  I soon learned that the plastic surgeon, much like the other doctors, didn’t feel overly concerned about my melanoma.  She said it was deeper than she would like to see but at this level it is usually still contained in the skin and likely not spread.  What a relief.

The slightest remark by a doctor can either lift your spirits or send you spinning downwards into despair.

The diagnosis phase had so far been an emotional roller coaster to say the least.   I needed as much lifting as I could get but it didn’t come often, at least not from the medical world.  I was also determined to shift my focus from cancer to my wife’s pregnancy.  This was supposed to be a happy time, not a time of fear and depression.

The surgery was not as painless as I thought.  They froze me, but I was more awake than ever.

As she began to cut into my back I could feel the knife slicing through the deeper levels.  At this point in my journey I was not good with blood, and this pain didn’t help the situation.  The thoughts of what was going on behind me made me nauseous.  As she stitched me up she said it would take a week or two for the results to come in and not to do any physical activity for a while to allow the incision to heal. Once again we waited for that dreaded phone call.

I seek a personal relationship with all my physicians.

I look for some kind of connection with my doctors that, at the very least, allows me to gain some trust in them.   I began this process feeling open and willing to talk about my fears with them.  I wanted to build open communication.  I soon realized that this wasn’t going to happen.  The feeling wasn’t mutual.  It is a lonely feeling.

I continue to feel like I am just another number.  Shouldn’t an emotional pulse check be part of my appointment?

The system is flawed.  Doctors are so highly in demand and spread so thin that they become robotic.  Individual appointments are rushed, leaving no room for emotion or even just a chat.  I’ve had a doctor give me results without even asking how I was feeling.  Not even a simple ‘how are you feeling’ before they hit me with the terrible news.  It is a very empty feeling.

If I could go back in time to speak to that frightened thirty year old patient who felt that he wasn’t being heard, I would urge him to stand up and share his concerns with the medical world.  I would want him to take charge of his own health and look at things more holistically.  The lesson I learned in all of this was to become my own best advocate.  Do my homework and do what feels best for me.

However, I still struggle voicing my opinion in a doctor’s office.  Where do you struggle expressing yourself?



  1. Kath says:

    Your question on where we struggle resonates load and clear with me. I during my lifetime have become a professional patient, and it has taken me all these years to finally be able to tell a doctor what is really on my mind, and insist that they take the time to hear me, or I move on to a new doctor who will. It is not easy, especially if they are colleagues in the same field, but necessary in my personal treatment plan.

    Your blog entries are all so beneficial to those who came before you on this cancer journey and those who will be diagnosed and survive with you. I have struggled so many times in my doctors office, often feeling like like I was not a person, just a number. I have learned through the kind folks at the LIVESTRONG Foundation that we must be our own advocates. Our manifesto often gets me through these times when I feel I am battling not only the diseases, but the doctors as well. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me. You will find it here: http://www.livestrong.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Strength/LIVESTRONG-Manifesto
    You are an inspiration. I am sorry you have had to go through this, but you are helping so many with your TEN PERCENT PROJECT.
    #livestrong always,

    • MarkNewman says:

      Hi Kath,

      A big part of my journey has been to find my own voice. I tend to hide behind the fear and not take a stand for what I believe. Ten Percent is all about finding that voice and really living. You are definitely part of the Ten Percent and I am inspired by your strength.

      In health.

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