Communication, Respect, and Trust: Foundations of a Strong Doctor-Patient Relationship

Throughout my entire life, I have been surrounded by doctors. Growing up, I would often accompany my dad, who is a cardiologist, to his office or the hospital on weekends. While there, I enjoyed conversing with his colleagues in the hospital lounge and sneakily indulging in the abundance of snacks available. Additionally, my siblings and I would compete on the treadmill in my dad's office to see who had the best stamina. After consistently defeating them, I would reward myself with a handful of lemon candies from the welcome desk. At that time, the doctor's office was a fun place for me to unleash my energy and satisfy my curiosity.

However, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my perception of the doctor's office changed. It became a place of fear for me, as the number of doctors involved in my treatment suddenly increased. On my first day as a member of the cancer club, I met with four physicians and received referrals for several others, including my oncologist, gynecologist, breast surgeon, and plastic surgeon. Before meeting my oncologist, I prepared a list of eight questions regarding my diagnosis. These questions ranged from the stage of my cancer to the potential hair loss associated with treatment. Despite my anxiety, my oncologist answered my questions honestly and gracefully, enabling an open line of communication between us. This practice of writing down questions before each appointment helped alleviate my fears and allowed me to regain confidence in my entire care team.

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Although I was only 21 years old at the time of my diagnosis, my doctors treated me with respect and included me in all decisions regarding my treatment plan. They never made me feel too young or uninformed. I appreciated their transparency and honesty, as they shared both positive and negative aspects of my condition. One particularly difficult conversation revolved around fertility preservation with my gynecologist. Prior to my diagnosis, having children was not at the forefront of my mind. However, I was devastated when informed that chemotherapy could impact my ability to conceive. It was ultimately my decision whether to undergo fertility preservation, which would delay my treatment start date. Balancing the potential benefits of immediate chemotherapy versus the possibility of future motherhood was challenging. Nonetheless, with the guidance of my doctors, I made the decision to freeze my eggs, knowing they had my best interests at heart.

As a child, I witnessed my father's patients expressing gratitude for his care, yet I did not fully comprehend the significance of a strong doctor-patient relationship until I found myself thanking my own doctors. Like any other relationship, it requires effective communication, mutual respect, and trust to establish a solid foundation with your doctor. I am incredibly grateful to have experienced all of these elements and more from each doctor who has been part of my journey. If you are a breast cancer survivor, I encourage you to join our Breast Cancer Facebook Support Group to connect with others who share similar experiences.