Patients come see me because their worst nightmare has come true.  They’ve been told that they have cancer. Cancer, they fear, means death.  Worse than death, they are sure that cancer means becoming maimed for life.  Chemo will make your hair fall out. Surgeons will cut you open.  If it’s skin cancer in a visible part of your body such as your face, the scar will be there for everybody to see every single day of the rest of your life.   If it’s breast cancer, although people won’t see your scar unless you go topless, you know it’s there.  And you probably will feel less attractive as a woman, even though your scar is not visible to the public.  That’s why I care a great deal about how I plan my operation to minimize the resulting deformity.  Of course, getting your body rid of that cancerous growth is first priority.  But my second priority is to help you move on with the rest of your life.  The less you are reminded daily of your traumatic encounter with cancer by looking at an ugly deformity, the more “normal” life will be.

When patients come see me, they can only think of the worst of the worst.  My job is to help them face their worst nightmare.  Usually in retrospect, having lived through your worst nightmare makes you realize that it was actually not as bad as your worst fear.  But when you’ve just been told you have cancer, you do not have the benefit of hindsight.  So, I try my best to put things in perspective.  Thanks to the excellent cancer screening we have in this country, most patients present to me with early cancer that can be removed by surgery.  I tell the patient where her or his cancer is in the spectrum of cancer stages.  No, your cancer is not like that of your relative/friend/neighbor who died from cancer a few months after he or she had been diagnosed.  Unless you’re in the medical field, your idea of cancer is likely defined by the worst case that you’ve seen, heard about or read on the Internet.  I’m no psychiatrist, and you may leave my office feeling just as scared as when you came in.  But at least, you will know in no uncertain terms that I, your surgeon, am not scared for you because I am confident that I can take care of your problem.  Not to minimize your problem, but I have dealt with worse cancer cases and I can handle yours.  And you and I will face this cancer together, and we will get through this nightmare together, and we will wake up to a fuller life ahead.

Patients come see me also because they’re afraid that their worst nightmare might come true.  Fear of cancer can be just as painful as the real thing.  I have seen patients in agony, who actually then found it more bearable once they know their diagnosis, even if that diagnosis is cancer.  Uncertainty is horrible; it keeps you up at night, it gnaws at you during the day.  So, I try my best to provide answers. And I try to do it as quickly as possible, because I understand the pain.

Dr. Mai Brooks

Advertisements