Oncologist says dismissive, unresponsive attitude could signal need for new physician
Darshell Bennett had just left work when her doctor dropped the bomb.
She had breast cancer, he announced brusquely over the phone as she drove.
A nurse called back to ask if she was OK, but the damage was done.
When Bennett went back for pre-surgery tissue tests, she said, her provider's rough bedside manner and rushed style were the final straw.
“They didn't even act like I was a person,” said Bennett, 39, of Penn Hills. She found another, reassuring doctor who left critical decisions to her.
“It takes a great doctor, I think, to hold your hand but also to give you the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about your life,” said Bennett, who elected a double mastectomy in February. “You're going to have to live with this the rest of your life.”
Breast-cancer survivors encourage other patients to take control if they feel uncomfortable, disrespected or hurried through diagnoses and treatments. Oncologists agree.
“I think the worst thing for a patient is to keep on seeing a doctor if they don't feel they're getting the personal care, attention or management that makes them comfortable with where they're going,” said Dr. Jane M. Raymond, an oncologist at Allegheny General Hospital.
She said a dismissive and unresponsive attitude toward patient concerns may be red flags that should send women elsewhere. In some cases, Raymond said, a patient simply might have a personality clash with a physician.
“I guess the longer I do this, the more I realize there's usually never one way to treat a patient or one way to do anything,” Raymond said.
Given that, she almost never needles a patient to pick one treatment path over another. Instead, Raymond said, she outlines possibilities, risks and benefits. “The last thing I want to do is talk someone into chemotherapy if they really don't want it.”
For patients who want to switch doctors, it's usually better to do so early on, around the time of the diagnosis, said Dr. D.L. Wickerham, chief of cancer genetics and prevention at Allegheny General.
“It becomes more difficult to get second opinions or arrange for a transfer” as treatments progress, said Wickerham, associate chairman at the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project in Pittsburgh's North Side.
He said doctors seldom take requests for second opinions or case transfers as an affront.
A California-based study this year found 90 percent of surveyed black women were satisfied with their breast-cancer treatments. Nearly 25 percent of them, however, thought their doctors could have offered more information and treatment options.
Black support-group leaders said trends are similar in Western Pennsylvania. Blacks long have felt disrespect in the health care system, though that tension is easing, group leaders said.
“I think there certainly was a feeling, generally, that they weren't receiving the same care,” said Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, an administrator at the University of California-Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and lead author of the California study.
“If you're not given all the information about the disease and your treatment options, maybe the treatment option you chose doesn't work out as well. Or maybe you don't follow it because it wasn't your choice,” she said.
The availability of information was critical for Sylvia Lowery-Lewis, 59, who dumped her oncologist between treatment phases. She didn't “feel I was getting the information I needed,” she said.
“I don't need 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes I may need half an hour to talk” with the oncologist, said Lowery-Lewis, of Highland Park. “You have control. This is your body. These are things for your life. Only you know how you feel.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Computer science students compete for laurels in 36-hour ‘hackathon’ at Pitt
- Hit sends Penguins’ Letang to hospital
- Alone at controls, Germanwings co-pilot sought to ‘destroy’ the plane
- NFL coaches weigh in on Polamalu’s legacy
- Steelers notebook: Team seek ease on West Coast travel
- Mt. Lebanon native, Iraq war hero’s action goes unrewarded
- Probiotic bacteria help conquer ‘superbugs’
- Downie’s goal, fight spark Penguins to win over Coyotes
- This collector wields Power of the Pens
- Penguins notebook: Johnston stays with team despite mother’s death
- Pirates notebook: Polanco’s power outburst a matter of timing