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.

1.    It’s your body, not the doctor’s

Description: Breast-cancer

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 critical.

2.    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.

3.    Take someone with you to listen

Description: 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.

4.    My mottos

“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.

5.    Be aware

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 someone’s life.

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.

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