When we suspect the diagnosis, oncologists often work quickly behind the scenes. They do not wish to step on the toes of the primary or referring physician and often guide the primary physician as to what the best diagnostic route may be for those for whom tumor is the rumor . A delicate balance must be struck as the entrance of the oncologist prior to the diagnosis being certain can understandably be quite evocative of enormous anxiety for the patient and family. It is essential for the primary, or soon to be referring physician, to identify for the patient and family what roles the many future consultants have. An individual who serves as the “quarterback” must be identified quickly with full consensus and understanding of their role by all.
This concept of focusing the attention on the right professionals applies to the family as well. It is the patient, not the family, who has the disease. The role of the family is enormously important. However, family and friends, the Internet and media as well as other health care providers, frequently inadvertently or overtly inundate the patient with stories that are either inappropriate or way off base. Their influence must be anticipated and never underestimated
This is a time of reinforcing the message of the autonomy and individual nature of the patient. A good analogy is the vehicle identification number of cars of the same make and model. Theses vehicle may have enormous similarities but run differently based on age and other factors. This is precisely the situation with each patient. Patients are individuals with a disease and they are not their diseases. It is never just another case of non-small cell lung cancer. The philosophic point raised above has enormous practical applications. Oncology is not a one size fits all endeavor.
The health care team must decide early if the oncologist leads or is initially behind the scenes. Sometimes the oncologist does not take over until there is definitive diagnosis or a diagnostic dilemma evolves at which point they step forward. Once again, one must never underestimate the importance of timing the oncologists’ entrance into the world of the patient and family. The comfort zone of the referring provider, of course, will largely affect this. There is great variability in this regard. Some primary referring providers remain very involved and others wish to pass the reins on to the oncologist as rapidly as possible. Unlike most other fields of medicine, loss of patients from an oncology practice is often due to death. Cancer practices typically acquire new patients and follow them for at least 5 years and more often for life while maintaining close relationships with referring providers.
Once it is clear that sufficient information exists that it is time to state the diagnosis and begin to put anti anxiety lassos around the beast, In Part Three Of Four to follow are some insights that may be enormously helpful for patients and their supporters