5 reasons you deserve a second opinion

5 reasons you deserve a second opinion

I’ve met a few people lately who are reluctant to get a second opinion. One woman said, “Oh, I don’t need a second opinion. I trust my doctor.” I support her and her decision wholeheartedly. What better place to be than in a place of trust? On the other hand, I want her and you to know that getting a second opinion should not been seen as criticism of your doctor. Honestly, you don’t really need a reason to get one. You deserve a second opinion.

Here are some reasons why:

An incorrect diagnosis can kill you. With bladder cancer, the cancer I have, diagnosis is critical to survival. With Stage One, Low Grade survival rates are very good, around 88%. Stage One, High Grade has a 50% chance of recurring and progressing. Once you hit Stage Two your survival rate drops to 60%. Those odds should put a second opinion into focus. Carpenters and Quilters measure twice in order to cut once. It’s a good rule of thumb for a diagnosis, too

Diagnosis is harder than it looks. Diagnosis is determined by a pathologist. While there are clear protocols in place for interpretation, most pathologists will tell you that diagnosis is partly an art. In addition, most biopsies are sent to local pathologists, who may not be specialists in your disease, which can make a critical difference in interpretation. If you look at bladder cancer cells all day long, you’ll become better at interpreting what you see. Even then, specialists disagree. The immediate difference between a Stage One bladder cancer and a Stage Two is that the former is treated with a drug infusion and the latter with removal of the bladder. That surgery changes your life forever and requires at least 6 weeks of recovery.

Treatment strategies aren’t always clear. I advise everyone with cancer to go to the National Comprehensive Care Network and download the protocol for your cancer. Use this to talk with your doctor about her/his decisions. (Mine gave me a copy.) The NCCN is the gold standard of cancer care. Sometimes, the protocols offer options, or you may have intolerable side effects with one treatment. BCG, the drug used to treat my cancer, underwent a worldwide shortage just a year or so before I was diagnosed and it wasn’t available to everyone. You may need a second opinion for help in thinking about next steps.

Bedside manner isn’t icing on the cake. I hear people talk about bedside manner as if it’s incidental to good care. If you aren’t comfortable talking with your doctor, your health can suffer. Doctors who don’t listen have poorer outcomes than doctors who do for one primary reason. You know your body better than a doc can know your body. If your doctor scares you, fear will make it difficult for you to listen and to ask questions. You may not need warm and fuzzy. You may, actually hate warm and fuzzy. But, you do need someone who visibly respects you as a patient, complete with your personality flaws and strengths. You also need someone who you can communicate well with.

This is not a beauty pageant, and there is no prize for Miss Congeniality. If you think you’ll offend your doctor, hurt his/her feelings, or irritate him/her, get over it. Your life isn’t worth superficial politeness. In fact, if your doctor is offended or irritated by your getting a second opinion, I urge you to run to get one. A good doctor should welcome a second opinion. I asked my doctor if he thought I needed a second opinion and he said, “No.” He immediately followed this up with, “However, I will support you 100% in getting one. Another perspective is always valuable.” He gave me every reason to be confident, and also enabled me to follow my own instincts.

This article from Mayo offers helpful advice about second opinions, including information about insurance and finding a doctor.

Have you gotten a second opinion? Please share your experience, either on my FB page or in the comments below.

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