I met Claudia through this blog. I want to thank her for allowing me to share this letter that she wrote to her gynecologist after her doctor missed obvious signs of breast cancer. Claudia is incredibly strong and brave for sharing these pictures of herself in the hope of saving another woman from going through a similar experience. Thank you Claudia for your friendship and for your generosity.
It has been one year since I was diagnosed with Stage 3A breast cancer. I had a tumor measuring 9 centimeters. Ductal and lobular carcinoma, invasive, advanced disease, as you must surely know as a physician. Since then, I have endured a very sad and hard path in my life.
I lost my breasts, lost both of my nipples, lost my hair, and I can’t have estrogen circulating in my body. As a gynecologist, you know what that does to me physically, and emotionally.
I’m not sure if you forgot about it or not but I wanted to remind you of our last conversation.
You were my first line of defense against breast cancer. Here are the facts: one out of eight women will get some kind of breast cancer. Women who have fibrocystic or dense breast tissue have a higher chance of being diagnosed with it. Also, lobular cancer is very hard to detect. Knowing these three things should have made you think twice after reading my last mammogram report and after you personally examined me with your experienced hands.
I had a fat pocket that grew under my armpit and the only reason it grew there was because the tumor had pushed it out. I found out too late because you did nothing about it when I brought it to your attention.
My left nipple was leaking and turning inward, your words were, “It must be because you jog, because of the rubbing on your nipples, your brain thinks you are lactating.”
Well, my nipple was leaking because I had breast cancer. My nipple turned inward because I had breast cancer and that mass under my armpit was due to breast cancer.
You have two girls. Can you imagine if this happened to one of them or to you for that matter? Can you imagine losing your hair, losing your breasts? How about watching your mom, dad, husband, young kids, and friends see you go through this suffering and not able to do anything about it?
Tamoxifen may save my life but let me tell you something, it numbs me. The side effects take away my quality of life.
I am grieving right now. I don’t know if I will live for two or twenty years. How do you think I feel having to do tests every three months, PET scans every six months and then every day of my life hanging onto the thought that at any time cancer could come back?
Although this is not a blame game, many times my thoughts go to you. I do blame you for your lack of care and attention. Be happy that I am not reaching you through lawyers.
Pay more attention to your patients, teach them what to look for, educate them on breast cancer, or any other cancer related to your specialty. You made an oath as a doctor, have you forgotten what that really means?
Maybe I couldn’t have avoided the cancer. But you could have helped me avoid it being detected at stage 3.
Claudia Degomme, your ex-patient.
Note: Claudia was smart, she followed her intuition and sought a second opinion when her doctor told her that her symptoms were nothing to worry about. Her best friend who is also a doctor provided the answers she needed to save her life. Here in Claudia’s words are what happened next.