The first four months of 2021 centered around my daughter’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. The process of not knowing was the hardest as several biopsies ensued. The additional biopsies in other parts of her left breast and the one in her right breast showed no signs of cancer. Despite our fears, in the end, her cancer was a blip on our radar screen.
Turns out that mammograms today are so sensitive they pick up cells before they form tumors. Nicole’s first biopsy removed those tiny cells. The lumpectomy removed the seed and confirmed the presence of no more cancer cells. Dr. Paravati explained all that to us and that radiation has advanced to the point that only five treatments were needed. Those ended on April 21 and today she seems back to normal.
I am happy to report that all the doctors and medical personnel we interacted with were kind. Some were extraordinary. That made it easy for me to regain my equanimity after losing it with my primary care physician in March (subject of my last blog post).
For instance, her surgeon, Roxanne Weighall, called us to inform us about biopsy results, answer any questions, and plan next steps. She begins with, “Hi, how are you?” Shocked the first time, I continue to be in awe that a doctor would do that. Her scheduling assistant, Nancy, also displayed empathy as she took all the time needed to listen and respond to our concerns.
Her anesthesiologist, Natalie Godzik, was adorable as she talked with her hands, assuring us she had reviewed all Nicole’s hysterectomy records and the recommendations for patients with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy. Before the surgery, Natalie thought Nicole could tolerate general anesthesia, even though the guidelines warn against it. “We don’t need to use it for this surgery, so we won’t use it.” After the surgery, she appeared flustered as she emphasized that Nicole cannot have general anesthetia and needs to have any procedures, even a colonoscopy, performed in the hospital. She agreed to be a consultant or to serve as the anesthesiologist if we like. I asked for her card.
During the post-op appointment, Dr. Weighall went over referrals. Nicole needed to consult a medical oncologist about the possibility of taking estrogen-blocking medication. She seemed a little surprised at my reaction when she referred Nicole to Dr. Sabiers.
I exclaimed, “I love Dr. Sabiers!” She admitted he is known for his soothing manner. You see, Dr. James H. Sabiers was a nurse before he became a doctor.
Outstanding in His Field
Eight or nine years ago during the follow-up period after my treatment for lymphoma, I consulted Dr. Sabiers for a second opinion. While it wasn’t necessary for me to have any more follow up, I knew that if I ever got cancer again, I wanted Dr. Sabiers for my doctor. His doctor-patient relationship skills are extraordinary. I had lost track of him as he moved from a private practice to a hospital-based practice. I was glad to know where he is now.
After the nurse took Nicole’s vitals on the day of our appointment, she said, “Dr. Sabiers will be in soon and he is wonderful.”
I looked at Nicole and said, “How often do you hear that?”
Saturday, I put a letter of appreciation in the mail to him. Because I outlined his extraordinary skills, I sent copies to the CEO and President of the hospital with a recommendation.
Extraordinary Doctor-Patient Relationship Skills
I believe the extraordinary needs to be acknowledged. These excerpts from my letter of appreciation highlight Dr. Sabiers’ skills:
“… you began by asking to hear her story. You drew her out and got a picture of her, her cognitive deficits, and her inactive lifestyle.
When you came in to talk with her about the medications, you began by giving a detailed description of invasive breast cancer and emphasized she doesn’t have it and what she has which will not kill her.” (His exact words were, “If you don’t remember anything else I have to say today, I want you to remember, ‘You do NOT have invasive breast cancer.)
“You explained how excited doctors were when estrogen-blocking medications were discovered. Then you cited the side effects. You told how women respond when they hear about the side effects.
Some women have a history of breast cancer in their families and are so afraid of it they are willing to risk the side effects. Others decide they will begin living an active lifestyle, eating better and getting exercise … like the swimming my daughter did pre-COVID. You were clear that you would be hesitant to recommend the medication because blood clots and osteoporosis are also side-effects of an inactive lifestyle. You mentioned that her myotonic muscular dystrophy will probably shorten her life sooner than breast cancer.
You waited patiently through her tears as she indicated that it didn’t seem like a good idea to take the medication. After I agreed with her, you let her know you thought this was a very good decision. Later, you mentioned that she has ten free sessions with a personal trainer through Maple Tree (a hospital-related rehab center for cancer patients).
You displayed genuine interest in who she is, treated her with respect, gave her detailed information about side effects and your thinking on the matter. You let her make her own decision and affirmed the decision she made.
I sat in awe of your doctor-patient relationship skills …”
I believe Dr. Sabiers should be recruited to provide doctor-patient relationship training to other doctors.
I made this recommendation because I believe all of us deserve such clear communication from our doctors and to be treated with such respect … to be treated as a human being and not just a body. That is why I sent a copy of this letter to the administration. I hope they will act on my recommendation. I’ll let you know.