I have been recently attending a day care session every Tuesday at the Calderdale Hospice in Elland. Everyone who goes there has a progressive and incurable illness. Most of us have cancer of one sort or another.
D. has cancer of the oesophagus. She is being treated at Halifax by Dr J who was my oncologist. She asked me why I was going to Cookridge in Leeds so I told her that I felt dissatisfied with Halifax and that I began to lose my confidence in the oncologist there. I discovered that we shared almost exactly the same experience of Dr. J.
We both agreed that she is a very friendly and apparently approachable person but D said that she had the impression that she was a hopeless case who was wasting the doctor’s time. Recently she was advised to stop treatment even though the scans showed that it was working. One of the reasons advanced by Dr J for this course of action was that D was having trouble swallowing. However, this was because she had a problem with the stent which had been inserted after her operation, a problem which was about to be remedied by further, minor surgery. D had actually broken down in the consultation and begged her not to stop the chemotherapy which Dr J is (apparently v. reluctantly) allowing her to continue with. She made the excellent point that in circumstances such as ours you want to feel as if your doctors are fighting with you not wanting to abandon you to the cancer.
My own feelings that I had to get out of Halifax Hospital and away from that oncologist for psychological reasons were reinforced by my discussion with D. I said at the time that Dr J and the nurses there were treating me like Dead Woman Walking and that I believed if I carried on as a patient there I would just go downhill because of the atmosphere which would surround me. And yet at times I have doubted myself because all the medical staff I have ever spoken to have been so positive about Dr. J. My own GP said that if he ever develops cancer he would want to be treated by her. D had also come across this fantastic reputation and had been wondering if it was just her who felt this way. She is now thinking of transferring to Cookridge too!!
I sometimes wonder if medical staff have any idea of the effect of their words on patients trying to cling desperately to their lives and some form of hope. I wouldn’t want to return to the days where no one told cancer patients the truth or gave them false hope. However, I feel that in the case of this particular oncologist she only seems to give us the worst case scenario and never seems to mention that occasionally people do survive for much longer than doctors predict and that some even recover.