This past weekend there was an article published in the New York Times Magazine by Peggy Orenstein titled “The Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer.” I was warned by a colleague to be prepared to address the article with patients. So, on Sunday night after my girls went to bed, I looked it up on the internet and read it.
I immediately had mixed feelings about it. There are some things I agree with and some things I disagree with. But my concern was mostly about how women might react to such a piece. As with most articles I read on the internet, I continued on to the comments section. As expected, many breast cancer patients described their experiences, some with good results, many with bad results. There were also some people who described facing the possibility of having breast cancer, ultimately ending up with benign results, and how that experience negatively affected them.
Although I did see a rare post from a radiologist defending mammograms and the need for biopsies and surgery, there is very little out there about what it is really like to be in our shoes. Every day, we sit here examining numerous mammograms, trying to determine whether or not we should call someone back for additional views. Could that be a cancer? Or when we see something we are not sure of, do we biopsy or watch it? Our patients’ lives rest in our hands and our decision at this moment could mean the difference between someone having cancer and doing well versus someone having cancer and ultimately dying from it.
Part of my job includes performing biopsies and giving the results. I have told many women that they have breast cancer. Fortunately, I have been able to tell many women that there are reasons to stay positive. But like the article describes, there are still many women I cannot tell that to, and some I know have not done well. There are many times I have wanted to cry with the patients but because of professionalism, I hold back the tears. But I am right there with them feeling the sadness, the disappointment that I couldn’t find this earlier, and the fear of what their future holds.
I have had so many experiences with patients that have changed my outlook on life in so many ways. After reading several blogs of breast cancer patients, I thought to myself, “It might be nice to share some of my experiences with other people.” Perhaps, it might be reassuring to some patients to know that we (as breast radiologists) are on their side.
That is why I am here.