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Treating Breast Cancer Early

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How I Found the Right Breast Cancer Doctors for Me

Medically Reviewed By Kimberly Valenta, MD

I arrived at my first appointment with a surgeon full of questions. What was the finding on my mammogram that was spurring the recommendation for a biopsy? What was the likelihood it was cancer? The wording on the report included “calcifications.” What were those?

I hoped for a rich and informative dialogue that would give me confidence that a biopsy was the next step. I was seeking more clarity and understanding.

Unfortunately, this appointment was cut short when the surgeon was called away for an emergency. He left, and the office wrote me a referral for the biopsy.

I walked out, frustrated and confused. If this was cancer, was he the right doctor for me?

What kind of doctor did I want?

Looking back, I’m sure the patient who was having an emergency was grateful that the surgeon dropped everything to attend to his needs. But I wasn’t. I was entering a world that might involve cancer. I was only 41, and I was terrified. I needed a breast cancer expert to walk me through this journey. I wanted a doctor to explain why I needed certain procedures, who would answer my questions thoroughly.

After a search, I ended up finding just that surgeon. My new breast surgeon was detailed, thorough, and willing to explain the imaging results. He told me exactly why he would order not one but two biopsies on the area in question. When he wasn’t sure about a result, he would pick up the phone during the appointment and call the pathologist or radiologist. This surgeon wasn’t willing to get me into surgery until he had all of the information he needed to give me the best possible outcome.

My new breast surgeon’s detail-oriented perspective and years of expertise in the breast surgery field aligned with my desire to understand my treatment and options. I had more confidence and peace, even as I was dealing with the challenges of breast cancer. My trust in him made it easier to follow his pre and post-surgery instructions. 

When he told me I couldn’t do my regular walking for two weeks after surgery, I was pretty frustrated. But then, he told me why. If I walked too much, I risked disrupting the internal stitches he had placed during my lumpectomy. He didn’t stop at telling me what to do; he helped me understand why it was so important. Once I knew why, I had no trouble following the instructions.

Referrals, Patience, and Persistence to Find the Right Doctors

Finding my breast surgeon took persistence, patience, and a bit of good luck. I started with a referral from my primary care doctor. Then, I needed to see if this referral to a different medical group and physician was in-network with my insurance company. This is a crucial step in assembling our medical team, especially in the United States. Sticking with in-network doctors can make a huge difference in our out-of-pocket costs.

It took much longer to get in to see this new doctor, and the funny thing was, when I did see him, it turned out he wasn’t a breast surgeon; he was a medical oncologist! I felt pretty silly when he told me that he didn’t do surgery. It takes an entire team to take care of cancer, and I wasn’t even sure which doctor I needed to see first!

Thankfully, this oncologist worked closely with a breast surgeon in the same office, who just happened to be doing paperwork that day. He was willing to pop in and make an appointment right away to get my care started.

Cancer centers like the one I went to are common in many large metropolitan areas in the United States. These centers have many specialists who team up to care for us during our treatment. The doctors can easily refer patients between them, and since patient medical records are centralized, we don’t need to do the work to get our records between offices.

Location matters

Breast cancer treatment involves many appointments, tests, and procedures. Some treatments, like radiation, mean daily appointments. As I was seeking out my breast cancer care, it was essential for me to seek care that was as close as possible to my home. This would minimize my time away from my children during appointments and make it easier for our entire family.

When it came time to do my radiation treatment, the medical group I was seeing didn’t have a local facility, so they referred me to another center. This one referral saved us hours in transportation time.

My time and energy during treatment were precious resources, so by selecting nearby locations, I could get home and relax much faster. If it is possible to choose a team  that is close to your home or work, this will make the logistics of breast cancer just a bit easier.

Surgery Day Peace

I’d just been wheeled into the surgery department after kissing my husband goodbye, and I was feeling nervous and scared. And then, I heard my surgeon’s voice. He walked up and asked me how I was doing.

The waves of anxiety I’d been feeling slipped away as we chatted. I hadn’t been through any surgery before, but I trusted him and his team, and that gave me peace. I was grateful I’d taken the time to find another surgeon. The delays were hard, but the confidence I had in my team was worth it. I’d found the right breast surgeon for me.

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Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Valenta, MD
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