A Breast-Cancer Surgeon Returns to Work After Breast Cancer


Earlier this month, Liz O’Riordan found herself once again, scalpel in hand, staring down at a woman with breast cancer. The patient was 65 years old, and had reacted to her diagnosis with stoicism. Fine, she had said. I have breast cancer. Chop it out and move on.

O’Riordan had done just that many times before, in her career as a breast-cancer surgeon. But this case was different. It would be the first operation she would do after having been treated for breast cancer herself. It would be the first time she donned a surgical mask, after years in a patient’s shoes.

In July 2015, O’Riordan discovered a lump in her breast—the fourth in five years. She wasn’t worried: All the others had turned out to be clusters of cysts. Still, at her mother’s insistence, she got the lump checked out. At a different hospital, where she used to work and her husband still does, a radiologist examined her breast with an ultrasound. “I saw the screen and said: That’s a cancer,” she says. “I just knew.”

She started chemotherapy a week later. “You think you know what it’s like to go through the treatment you’ve prescribed every week for years,” she says, “and you have no idea. You think you know how bad you are meant to feel, or how to treat side effects like constipation, but you don’t.”

Doctors face particular challenges when they become patients—challenges that they are rarely prepared for. It is hard to relinquish control and allow others to dictate the treatments that you yourself are used to doling out. It is crushing to know your own prognosis in the starkest terms—a 65 percent chance of surviving for 10 years, in O’Riordan’s case. It is awkward to see your own former patients while you’re being treated: To strike up a chat would break confidentiality.

And it is difficult to be cut off from the same supportive forums and networks that other patients use to share experiences and support; if you let slip that you’re a doctor, you become a source of information, rather than a comrade in illness. After getting her diagnosis, O’Riordan tweeted about it, and began blogging about her experiences. She was contacted privately by several people who said: I’m a doctor, and no one knows I have cancer. She ended up with a secret network of 15 such people. Two of them have since …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Health

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