What Does An Oncologist Do?

Young, smiling female doctor in a white coat.

Over the next few days, the news settled in and I was staring down the barrel of a very different year to the one I had planned.  I had a new list of things to do. At the top of the list, “make an appointment with the oncologist”.  So what does an oncologist do?

My Medical Oncologist was Jodie. She was lovely and she specialised in breast cancer, so I felt comfortable that I was in good hands.  I had a list of questions for her and at the top of the list was, “so what does an oncologist do?” I didn’t want to make any assumptions; yes, I had read everything I could, but still I wanted to hear it from her.

Jodie explained that her role was to assess the results of all of the tests that I had had done so far and work out the best treatment plan for my individual case from the established protocols.  She went on to explain a couple things that deep inside I already knew.

The Problem

Firstly, the quicker they can deal with things the better and this generally happens in a few days.  In my case, from the time I found the lump until I was diagnosed was three months.  This was not a good thing.  Secondly, although the lump was small (1 cm) the cancer was extremely aggressive.  The number of lymph nodes involved was high so this was not good either.

Pause, while I waited for the good news!!  Nope, I was in deep shit and we both knew it….

The Treatment Protocol

Jodie went on to explain the best course of action (my best chance of surviving this) was to hit it as hard and as aggressively as possible.  Okay, so now for the treatment plan.

Now for the reality of it – ultimately the purpose of chemotherapy was to get me as close to death as possible, but without actually killing me in the process – well let’s hope that works for me!  It would wipe out all of my cells, but the good cells repaired faster than the cancer cells. Then more chemo when I was strong enough and time it before my cancer cells were growing well again.  Intuitively, I understood it.

As for side effects – the chemo would make my hair fall out and it would make me very sick but the  nausea would be treated the with more drugs.  The radiation should give me excessive burns as my skin was very susceptible to sunburn, so this was a given.  2001 was going to slip away in a haze of illness, treatment, hospitals and doctors.

Question Time??

It was time for my questions.  One major question, as well as a series of other questions.  The major one first- we had only been married six months and were planning on having a baby next year, so should I freeze my eggs?  The simple answer from Jodie –  “You don’t have time”.  She went on to explain that the process can take about six weeks and as it had already been over three months, I couldn’t afford to delay any longer.

We were done. I had all the information to make the decision about whether I was signing up for this or not.  Jodie did explain that if I decided not to go through with the treatment it would not be a good outcome for me.  Not much of a choice I thought!

The Introduction To The Oncology Ward

From Jodie, I had to go and meet the nurses in the oncology ward and they would explain how things worked and the process of chemotherapy and what would happen when I turned up for it.   I was greeted by Linda (the head nurse). She was so lovely, gentle and kind.  She took the time to answer all of my questions.

Armed with all the information, I headed to work to fill them in.  I still hadn’t told colleagues at work because I wanted people to see me well before they found out what was happening.

So What Does An Oncologist Do?

An oncologist makes an assessment based on the information they have available and using protocols (what has worked in the past for people with a similar diagnosis), then work out the best treatment plan possible to give you the best chance of survival.

I trusted Jodie, but if I didn’t, I would have sought another opinion or changed doctors.  I was putting my life in her hands and without a trusting relationship, this would never had worked.  I trusted that she would do everything medically possible to get me through this, then the rest was up to me!

Love Gai

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