Doing Nothing Option

Perspectives of a doctor becoming a patient – Part 2 – Doing nothing option

One day, when I was 27 years old, suddenly, out of the blue, I noticed a breast lump.

I went to the doctor, who sent me to get an ultrasound to determine if the lump was solid or cystic. It was solid. Again, the same worry…what if?? I was really scared and it didn’t matter that I knew the facts, that the doctor and medical texts told me the facts, I was panicking inside. It was the first time in my life I had something physically wrong and I did not like the unsettling feeling.

Still, I had my wits about me enough to go see a surgeon. At the appointment he told me I could decide if I wanted surgery or if I wanted to wait and see what the lump did. Because of all my fear, I jumped at the idea of what seemed to me the “doing nothing option.” I went home telling my husband and family that if a surgeon says he doesn’t want to operate that means I don’t need surgery.

Now I realize that this isn’t want the surgeon meant at all. He was saying the lump did not have to come out right away and that observation was a safe option provided we continued to watch it clinically and with ultrasound; but I interpreted it as “ignore the problem so it goes away” and used the excuse that “the surgeon doesn’t want to operate” as my scapegoat. The reality was I was afraid of the surgery and because I had never had one I did not want to deal with it.

I continued to ignore the problem, until I noticed one or two weeks later that the lump had changed and it was more visible under the skin. This was my triumphant moment when I finally conquered my fear and realized that for me and that point in time the only thing to do was to be proactive and to take it out. Now, that isn’t to say that I made the right decision. As a doctor I know there are many decisions. Things are not necessarily absolutely right or absolutely wrong; things are just right and wrong for that particular person and that particular clinical scenario. For me it was right to take it out. Fear was the only thing stopping me from surgery, not sound medical judgment. Once I realized that it was only fear prevented me from making the right decision, I called the surgeon back and told him I wanted surgery.

The happy ending is the surgeon removed the lump and the lump was diagnosed as a fibroadenoma by pathology. The tumor was benign! The surgeon did an excellent job and I as a patient did an excellent job in conquering my fear. As a doctor, I would recommend not panicking, not ignoring the problem and not letting fear decide what is best for you; but as a patient I understand—it’s not that easy! What we can strive for when we are patients or when our loved ones are patients is to have an eye of calm that allows us to be cool, composed, and rational. Together with doctors we can make the best medical decision once we realize that “the worst thing to fear is fear itself.”

Published on: September 02, 2010
About the Author
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Veronica Lois is a second year pediatric resident at Stanford University who enjoys writing and now wants to share her medical knowledge with the general public.

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