What Not to Say: 10 Hints for Healthcare Clinicians

What Not to Say: 10 Hints for Healthcare Clinicians


Nearly all the healthcare professionals I know are amazing people, but we can all learn from mistakes. Here are some standouts from my experience that I hope no other patient hears.

1.  “Don’t worry about that lump.”

Yep. That was my doctor who said my lump “didn’t meet the characteristics of cancer.” Lumps are a big deal to us girls. We’ve had it pounded into us to contact a doctor immediately if we ever feel one. When I found mine, I saw a physician the next day.

It was a relief when she said “it’s nothing,” but I scheduled a mammogram anyway: triple negative breast cancer, spread to my lymph nodes and sternum. If you have a lump, get it checked.

2.  “Cheap Chemo”

Every time my husband gets an x-ray, he badgers the techs to tell him what they see. “Come on,” he says, “you can read those screens better than anyone.” They never break their code of silence.

During my mammogram though, my tech mumbled something about a place where I could get cheap chemo. What? Chemo? Me?  Now I know why they’re not supposed to say anything. Learning I have cancer while having my boob smashed in a vise was not an ideal way to get my diagnosis.

3.  “You Can’t Afford to Survive”

After Obamacare cancelled my health insurance, no doctors would see me. My husband and I spent hours on hold, sometimes with three phones all playing Muzak at the same time.

An oncologist finally agreed to see me if I’d bring three hundred dollars cash to the appointment. Then he told me I’d be dead within three months. “You can’t begin to afford cancer treatment,” he said. “Your situation’s impossible.”

4. Politics

When I’m half dressed in front of strangers, I’d prefer not to discuss politics. So I don’t. But here’s what I’d like to say: if you really think Obamacare is so great, opt out of your employer-provided coverage and try it. Then take off your clothes and let me espouse my own opinion while you sit naked on a bench waiting to see if your cancer is back.

5.  “Frankenboob”

An oncologist introduced me to a new vocabulary word. Yep, the same guy who had me bring him three hundred dollars in cash, the one who said I’d be dead in three months. A real ladies man. “Best case scenario,” he said, fingering my lump, “you’ll wind up with a ‘frankenboob’.” Women who’ve had breast reconstruction surgery after enduring cancer treatment deserve better.

6.  “You Need a Mastectomy. Tomorrow.”

A surgeon told me I needed a mastectomy and wanted to schedule it for the following morning. After getting a second opinion, I learned I could get a lumpectomy with the same statistical outcome. What I really needed was a second opinion.

7. “Let’s Review Some Statistics.”

Through my husband’s perseverance, we found treatment in a beautiful place with smart nice people who saved my life. But an hour before my first round of chemo, my beloved oncologist pulled up a computer screen and showed me bleak statistics about survival rates. I’m an I-want-to-know kind of patient, but timing is everything. Just sayin’.

8.  “What Sign?”

After chemo, my body rebelled. My white blood cell count dropped to zero, and I landed in the hospital. People had to “suit up” so I wouldn’t be exposed to germs that could kill me. Nurses dressed like hazmat workers, and the entry to my room looked like a crime scene with caution tape, warnings signs, even a skull and crossbones. The nurse’s aid, though, apparently didn’t notice those warnings and cheerfully brought me water every morning with a beautiful smile on her unmasked face.

9. “Backslash, then click ‘next’. ”

When I was admitted to the ER, I needed water. My white blood count was low and risk for infection high, so it had to be bottled. Alas, there was none. Instead of finding water, nurses huddled around a screen. The hospital debuted a new computer system the day I arrived, and no one knew how to use it. Technicians walked staff through the process, but in that process they forgot about their patient. Me. It took hours to get antibiotics, and they never did find water.

10.  “Soon. She’ll Be Here Soon.”

“Where’s the doctor?” I asked nurses while I was hospitalized with nuetropenic fever.  It’s a condition that happens sometimes after chemotherapy, and it’s what sent me to the hospital. During my four-day stay, a doctor never made it into my room. I’ve wondered why ever since.

Note: Breast Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer. 

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