Breast-cancer expert Dr. Carol-Ann Benn has helped women deal
with the fallout of cancer for two decades. She shares the lessons she’s learnt
when it comes to battling the disease.
It’s your body, not the doctor’s
Disregard for a woman’s relationship with her breasts and a
lack of understanding of a woman’s psychological make-up, can result in poor
doctor-patient relationships. I’ve heard doctors saying, “You must have a
mastectomy”, without listening to the woman and her concerns and without
explaining the choices clearly. There are certain rules to ensuring safe cancer
management. Listening to a patient and understanding their physical and
psychological make-up is essential. The more I deal with women and breast
cancer, the more I learn that the psychology of understanding people is as
Get a second opinion
It amazes me how scared patients are to ask their doctors
questions and how covert people are about wanting second opinions. Ask
questions about your health, the procedures suggested, the number of times the
doctor has done the procedure, the complications rates. Ask your radiologist to
give you two or three doctors’ names once you’ve been diagnosed. Tell your
doctor you’re going for another opinion. When you go for the second opinion,
don’t reveal the first one otherwise it’s not a true second opinion. There’s no
such thing as an “emergency mastectomy”. And remember, nine out of 10 women
with early-diagnosed breast cancers are alive 10 years later.
Take someone with you to listen
When faced with concerning news, you take in less than 25
percent of information. I’m an anxious person and therefore very fussy about
attention to detail in my work, so explaining information to people is critical
for me. I recently went through a traumatic medical experience with one of my
children. I noticed how processing the information for someone in the medical
field was so difficult when stress and anxiety levels are high. My advice?
Write down everything and don’t be afraid to ask for re-explanations. Don’t
make life-changing decisions until you’ve processed all the information.
“Teamwork” and “There’s no problem that can’t be solved”. I
try turn my weaknesses into strengths, so my anxious tendencies are honed to
extreme attention to detail. I surround myself with people who I trust and
enable all the members in the team to function better and compensate for
weaknesses. You’re only as good as your team so keep building it. A team can approach
a problem from many different angles and thus ensure there’s always a solution.
Twenty five percent of breast cancer decisions are changed in a detailed
multi-disciplinary unit. Ours has 14 specialists, including a psychologist and
a minimum of two specialists in every field.
The only guarantee we have is today. Be careful what you do
with your time, mouth and money. Be gentle, honest and kind, and know that the
doctor is not God.
You’re privileged with health, intelligence and time; use
them wisely. Give something back – small acts of random kindness will impact on
Your body is a temple. Even if you do things right – eat
well, exercise, don’t smoke and use minimal alcohol – events still happen
beyond our control.