changing oncologist

How I (Barely) Survived Breaking Up With My Oncologist

We’ve all heard it before, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But in this case, it really was her. She had decided to leave me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Ok, fine, maybe I’m making this all about myself. The truth is, after an esteemed career at one of New York’s finest cancer centers, my oncologist was leaving science behind for a much-earned retirement. And sure, I was happy for her, she deserved it, yada yada. But what about me?! How was I supposed to move on? I’d never been through a breakup quite like this before.

Her team broke the news to me just days before my first survivorship check-up. “It will be your last appointment with M”, they said. She couldn’t even bear to tell me herself and had to get her friends to do it. Typical, just like in high school! And so my first check-up would become my last. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all flowers and laughs from the beginning. M was stubborn, the opposite of a sugar-coater (more of a salt-coater, really) who stuck to the data and the data alone. But I slowly got to know her and after a heated back and forth about a certain lymph node (yes you, you pesky jerk), I felt like I’d finally won her over. But then treatment ended, and I adjusted to the idea of a once-per-quarter M visit instead of every two weeks. I’m sure she was glad. Looking back, we were already drifting apart. Her retirement plans had been made for months if not years, and there was only so much eye-rolling at my whiny “but what if…” scenarios she could handle.

And so I arrived for the first and last checkup – sad to let go of the one remaining tie to treatment. The rest of it was over, surgeries, chemo, bi-weekly visits, etc. M was all that was left, and her retirement felt like a rug being ripped from underneath me. I feared my new doctor wouldn’t know me, wouldn’t see me as anything other than a name on a piece of paper. After all, he wasn’t there through the thick of it. He wasn’t there to see me go from well-put-together professional to naked mole rat and (mostly) back again. He wasn’t M. But M trusted him, and respected him, and that meant a lot. I have to say I’ve never been broken up with then immediately moved on to a recommended friend but hey it’s almost 2020, I’m all for modern relationships.

One of the things that has helped the most with this process is knowing that M’s nurse will be working with my new doctor and I’ll still get to see her and hopefully some other members of the team. There are lots of people who make up our treatment teams, and remembering that makes losing one of them somewhat more bearable. And in the end, isn’t losing them the goal? Maybe someday I actually will just be a name in a file, one that says “long-term survivor, meh, no need to follow up”.

This new guy and I have set a date for sometime in March and I’m glad I’ll have some time to recover from this breakup before meeting him. Maybe by then I’ll be ready to move on. I hope M knows what she’s getting into, all that relaxing sounds tough after a career in science. Just wait, in six months the cancer center will be getting the oncology equivalent of a “hey u up?” text. We all know how messy breakups can be. – Robin Goode

Want to know the answers to the most common questions asked by an oncologist? Click here to find out.

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