Navigating The Elusive ‘Peace of Mind’ in Cancer | Navigating Now

What I want to bring to light this month can be an extremely difficult subject. So difficult in fact, that many shy away from it. The topic of second opinions is multi-faceted, so we have decided to break this into two parts: the physician side and the patient side.

Patients are generally afraid they will offend their doctors and potentially damage the relationship. We’ve heard from many in our community that when broaching the subject, their doctor made them feel guilty for “doubting” their ability to treat them. On the other hand, we have heard wonderful stories of collaboration and how well the two teams worked together.

This is an immensely complicated issue. But in our opinion, few things can be more important when facing cancer so let’s get to it.

I recently read a study that was conducted in metastatic breast cancer patients. The investigators were trying to figure out the best sequence of treatments – meaning, which drug or drug combinations to start with, and which ones to reserve for later lines of therapy. Their conclusion was, “This evidence underscores the need to give our patients the best treatment as early as possible.”

My first thought was, “Well, of course that’s the need.”

My second thought was, “That’s easier said than done.”

Those two thoughts illustrate one of the most prominent complexities of dealing with cancer: the fact that we refer to treating patients as “practicing medicine.” That is, doctors and researchers learn by studying what others have tried before, by investigating themselves, and also the experience that comes with treating patients daily.

Resources & A Rapidly-Changing Cancer Landscape

No one would argue that the cancer landscape is rapidly evolving on all fronts. It is impossible to over-emphasize how rapidly it’s evolving, from diagnostics to therapies and beyond.

There is another factor to further complicate the job of treating cancer – resources.

Do they have the resources to fund that extra staff member? To open that trial? To encourage my staff to do research during work hours? To use this treatment method versus that one? To train my staff on how to prescribe and manage that newly approved drug?

Sometimes the answer to some or all of these questions is “no.”

Frequently, the resources that doctors have at their disposal are completely out of their control. They do the best they can, with the resources they have, to treat an incredibly complex disease like cancer. And bless them for that! Doctors are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people on the planet. They are all continuing to learn as they go, and no two will draw on the same resources and experiences to treat your cancer.

We can’t neglect that other obvious fact that we all-too-often forget: they’re just people. Granted they are highly intelligent and sometimes compassionate people; nevertheless, they’re humans just like you and me.

Finding Peace of Mind In A Qualified Second Opinion

So how can you be sure you are getting the best, most promising treatment for your cancer as early as possible? How and where do you find peace of mind?

That’s easy: Get a qualified second opinion – or a third, if that would make you feel more confident or more peaceful. This approach alone has saved many patients’ lives.

There are truly amazing doctors out there who sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of understanding and researching your specific type of cancer. Find them! Talk to them! Don’t give up until you’ve got a relationship with a doctor whose experience and resources match your unique needs. The peace of mind you deserve calls for nothing less.

The great news is that remote second opinions are becoming more common. It’s now possible to have an expert review your case and meet with you via a telemedicine consultation, without you having to travel. We believe this is so critical to the patient journey that we created a new resource that you can see here, as well as our new Cancer Navigation Tool (lung edition available now)– that makse it even easier to connect with experts from the comfort of your own home. Access the tool here.


Joy Brewster Rusthoven
Executive Director