Why a Second Opinion Changed Everything For Us

Tommy started treatment (again) this morning. The past week has been a tough one, especially mentally, as we prepared for this next round. Gearing up to fight a battle you thought you won is not for the faint of heart. You’re tired, frustrated, angry, but have to get back in the game. I didn’t know what to expect from today, but I can promise you, I did not expect to feel light, supported, and overjoyed…but I do.

When the cancer showed up again, we decided to make a big leap of faith (and a short leap down Manhattan) to a new hospital and oncological team. (I’m not going to share the names of either hospital for discretionary purposes, but if you would like to learn more about our experience with our current team, please feel free to reach out to me.) I wanted to share a little about our decision to transfer teams, and why I feel like it was the best decision we could have ever made.

We absolutely loved our oncology team this past year. They led us fearlessly through the standard treatments, and through many difficult procedures and decisions. The surgeons who performed his esophagectomy are truly miracle workers, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their expertise and kindness. When suspicions of recurrence began to surface, we felt that our mindset and the prognosis given by our team didn’t align as well as it had previously.

The treatment building itself was another deciding factor for us, even though this one was completely outside the control of our team. The facilities were lovely, clean, and state of the art (they even had a live pianist in the lobby at times), but as time went on, the thought of physically being there was beginning to bring us anxiety. In this building, we had experienced trauma countless times over the past year. Whether it was receiving difficult news, anxiously waiting for results, going through unpleasant treatments, or the general flipping of our lives- it all happened in that building. This may seem irrational, but mental health is an extremely valuable tool in the fight, and we couldn’t risk damaging ours. We didn’t want to embark on this next round with lingering hesitations about the course of treatment, and we needed a fresh start.

All this led to our decision to seek a second opinion. Many people do this as they navigate their cancer journey, but it’s not always easy. It can make you feel like you’re betraying your team, and that they may somehow find you ungrateful (even though our team was completely supportive, and even assisted us in our search). The pressure to choose the team with the right fit is nerve-wracking. Who has access to the best treatments and clinical trials? Who is in a convenient location? Who offers plans that align with our goals? Who will take our insurance? It’s a lot to think about, A LOT of work, and we often found ourselves wondering if it would be worth it.

From personal experience, if you find yourself unsupported by your current team in any way, I encourage you to look elsewhere. For us, it was absolutely worth it. After our first meeting with our new oncologist, we knew he was the one. We understood his ideas and agreed with his plans, but most of all, we felt supported in a way we hadn’t been in a while. We knew we were going to enter this next round led by a strong leader, who was going to do everything he could to help us. We needed to know that our team was going to fight as hard as we were planning on fighting. Battling cancer the second time is 90% mental. Finding the fight left in you is not easy, and our new doctor fueled that fight.

Today we were greeted by the kindest team. Every person, from the doorman, to the lab tech, to the infusion nurse was encouraging. We met with an incredible nutritionist who did not look down on our nutritional efforts (as our previous oncologist had) but encouraged us to be as healthy as possible while recommending some great options. Everyone we met with took an extra second to check in on us mentally, not just physically. It was clear they understood that in order to win, we need to attack from every angle, meaning we need to be ready emotionally, as well as physically. We left feeling full. Everyone spent the morning doing their jobs, all while filling us with lightness and hope. We walked out feeling overwhelmingly grateful for our choice to take the risk and find our new treatment home.

It’s time to kick cancer’s butt again, and I know we have the tools and support to do it. We asked for encouragement from our support system this morning and received it tenfold. Our friends and families are lifting us, our new team is leading us, and were are loving each other hard. How can cancer possibly have a chance against all that?

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