I Was Not Shown Compassion by My Medical Team

I felt invisible and bewildered by my breast cancer diagnosis; I believed I was being ignored.

Get Permission

At my last screening mammogram in 2015, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The technician took the usual four x-rays of my breasts, and I was told I could leave. So it was especially shocking to get a phone call from the radiologist a week later telling me that I had to come back for an additional imaging test, with no explanation about why it was necessary.

When I arrived at the clinic, the technician took several x-rays of just my right breast, and said nothing when I repeatedly asked why the extra test was necessary. I believed I was being ignored. Finally, the radiologist came into the exam room and explained matter of factly that there was a suspicious mass in my right breast and that I would need a stereotactic biopsy to determine whether it was malignant. I didn’t sense a trace of warmth or compassion in her voice as she gave me the details.

Confused and Anxious

I was given my cancer diagnosis in the most blunt terms while the physician was looking at the computer screen. I felt invisible and bewildered.
— Nancy Unfried

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Two days later, I met with a surgeon, who looked at the mammogram films, and said, without ever looking at me, that the mass she was seeing was likely cancer and that I would probably need to have a mastectomy. She never gave me a physical examination or told me what I could expect next. It was such an unsettling experience, and I left the office feeling confused and anxious.

A month later, I had a surgical biopsy, which confirmed I had low-grade ductal carcinoma in situ. (Because my breast compressed to less than 2.5 cm, I was ineligible for a stereotactic procedure.) Because people with low-grade ductal carcinoma in situ are at an increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer in the future, my surgeon recommended a total mastectomy and said no further treatment was necessary.

Where Was the Compassion?

Fortunately, my current oncologist is caring and respectful.

I am, however, very disappointed by the way I was treated by the radiologist who interpreted the mammogram results, the surgeon who performed the biopsy and mastectomy, and the medical support staff, who I found to be dismissive and rude. I was given my cancer diagnosis in the most blunt terms while the physician was looking at the computer screen. I felt invisible and bewildered.

The whole experience has left me depressed, not so much because of the cancer but rather by the insensitive way I was treated.

Cancer Is Always on My Mind

Since my cancer diagnosis, routine medical examinations take on greater significance in my mind, and any out-of-the-ordinary symptom I’m experiencing is viewed suspiciously by me and my physicians; cancer is always on my mind. I also cannot get over the fact that I feel permanently maimed by my mastectomy, both physically and mentally. As a result, I avoid any chance at an intimate relationship.

My cancer experience has turned me into a different person, and I’m still trying to figure out my new role as a cancer survivor. ■

Ms. Unfried lives in San Diego.