When doctors move

Dr. Gary Steinberg, the Bruce and Beth White Family Professor and Director of Urologic Oncology at the University of Chicago, is leaving Illinois for New York University this month. His leaving is triggering anxiety, confusion, sorrow and, I’m sure, a lot of other emotions among his patients.

He is not my doctor, though I’ve met him and spoken with him several times at BCAN events and have interviewed him for this blog. Still, on hearing about his move, I feel the mix of emotions that cancer has always showered over me. Fear. Anger. Helplessness. Grief.

There’s this feeling of abandonment, a sense that only one person in the world can do what this man can do. Unfortunately, that’s not complete hyperbole. Steinberg is, according to a colleague, one of the top three urologic surgeons in the world.

When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, I sought a second opinion from Steinberg and had to pay for it out of pocket because my insurance wouldn’t cover it. As soon as I was able, I changed my insurance so that I could seek treatment from Steinberg should my cancer recur or progress. I pay more every month for this insurance. It’s always felt like my security blanket.

I am six years out from diagnosis and treatment. My doc, who is wonderful, believes it will never recur. But I know if it does I will be in the midst of a whirlwind again. And now, I can’t rely on having access to Steinberg.

Just thinking about that sends me to the verge of panic. And then I feel angry. And then vulnerable. And then, oddly, hurt. Of course, I know it isn’t personal. Docs get to live their lives.

It’s just that our lives are quite literally in their hands. We are dependent on them. We are not on equal footing. They have knowledge and ability, treatments and medications that we need.

It’s an odd relationship we have with doctors. Intensely intimate, but only in one direction. The professional masks they wear protect them from us, we who are often stripped of masks and shivering in hospital gowns.

I wish Gary Steinberg and his family all the best, all the good things life can bring. I hope he can forgive us, his patients and folks like me, for feeling our own sorrow more keenly than our good wishes at the moment.

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