Creativity Saved My Life, But The Wrong Doctor Could Have Ended It.

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

“After all, the goal is not making art. It is in living a life. Those who live their lives will leave the stuff that is really art.
Art is a result.”  
 Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I am first and foremost a visual artist, creative to my core. So when I was downsized from my graphic design job in 2010, and lost my health benefits, I joined a brilliant hospital program that allows for creatives and others who qualify, to work in exchange for points to use towards healthcare services. Some artists read to patients, play musical instruments, create murals and make art with pediatric patients, along with a host of other extraneous and creative services to support under staffed, under decorated, under funded hospitals and hard working people who cannot afford health insurance. 

I worked in this program for 2 years. For the first few months, I used my background in art and with children to make art with pediatric patients. But, for the entire two years, my main focus was teaching a yoga class for staff working in the outpatient chemical dependency department. Because hospital workers are said to be among those most stressed and because the stress of caring for people on a regular basis can deplete the care giver of much, my care of these dedicated yoga students was particularly important to me. Students expressed personal benefit as a result of the yoga instruction and, I was soon asked to run a weekly Art & Relaxation group for their clients.

On the deepest level, this program has had a direct impact on my livelihood and my literal life as well. It was because of this program that I had been able to keep up with seeing doctors on a regular basis for my healthcare and services which included the yearly mammogram and sonogram responsible for detecting the early detection of carcinoma that was diagnosed as breast cancer in my right breast on January 14, 2016.

The doctor who delivered my diagnosis, reassured me that the cancer, (he kept saying that ugly and irritating word) was found and caught very early and that was good news, especially since the one legion was incredibly small. Then he proceeded to talk about the standard recommendation for a lumpectomy and radiation. As he started to go through all of my very real and possible options. He skipped to and aggressively began discussing mastectomy to which I flipped out. “How do we go from the good news siting just one tiny cancerous legion caught very early to the discussion of a mastectomy?" I didn't understand the segue. He seemed annoyed at my questioning and my persistence for an understanding of the speedy detour in conversation. My request for further explanation was met with aggravation and resistance which caused me to become more agitated, maybe I was even in shock? It wasn’t long before our rapport took a turn for the worst as he vacated deep into his computer screen. This doctor then picked up the phone to see what the next opening was for an operating room? He wanted to plan surgery. I was still trying to understand and digest what was happening and hadn't even decided how I was going to discuss this with my family - so NO, I wasn't ready to commit and sign on for a surgery. In that moment, I felt incredibly unseen, not properly consulted or considered. I was offended by the way that doctor spoke AT me. Within 15 minutes of meeting him, he drops the C-bomb, says he'll take care of me then ignores my concerns and questions?? Yet, I'm supposed to schedule a time for him to cut me open? WTF? I don't think so. Aren't doctors to have a bedside manner —and see patients as individuals? Granted, this doctor was probably over worked. I wondered how many of those conversations he had had that week alone, before I took his schtick off script? He did not deal with ME, the person. I was angry and confused by it all, texted my friend Kym asking her to meet me and left that hospital in a fog determined for a second opinion. 

Just over a week later this doctor, (who I suspect, is not really a bad guy), called me to make sure that I was going to be in the medical care of someone even, if it wasn't going to be him. When I told him that I had decided to work with my second opinion team who was reasonably scheduling an MRI for me to "see what we were actually working with before going further", he actually said, “An MRI isn't necessary”. In that moment, I took a breath and refrained slamming the phone down on his face, and realized that I was just grateful to have had gone for the second opinion. I really was, and that was all that mattered. (Apparently the American Cancer Society does not recommend MRI screenings for women who are not at high risk of breast cancer**, which I was not—however, sonograms were routine because my breasts were too dense to offer any readings on a mammogram. Therefore, I am incredibly grateful for the chain of events that brought me to my new doctors and their due diligence. What I would later learn was that the MRI and the 3D mammogram done by my new medical team detected 2 more legions and 15 microscopic tumors that had begun forming in the same breast. My cancer was slow growing so it's disturbing that these findings weren’t likely to have been discovered any other way, or otherwise detected for some time down the road. Clearly, both joining that hospital program years ago AND getting that second opinion to go elsewhere were of the best decisions I've ever made for myself. As many are yet without healthcare at all, and others who are somewhat stuck with the inadequate care that they have, it is far from acceptable in general, as well as with regard to women's health.

Creative and radical measures have been taken to move everyone towards getting, and being able to have healthcare, but there are improvements yet to be made, not undone. We are only as strong as our weakest link. And our weakest links are usually the quietest. Many of us have fallen through the cracks and there is so much more that must be done. Attitudes that promote avenues for preventative care and early detection will support a better quality of life for all of us. We must look to partner with our doctors and the medical teams who ultimately work for us to incorporate a range of holistic ideals. It’s a relationship that is meant to be a lasting collaboration. In this day and age, due to networks, premiums, Pharma and profit margins, we often don't feel confident about who we get handed and are left without much recourse. How do your doctors make you feel? If you don’t like their bedside manner, remember that it is YOUR LIFE & BODY — please get a second opinion. I am forever grateful AND, a million times sure that my second opinion absolutely saved my life and more importantly, in many ways, the quality of it as well. And it is because of all of that, that I am able to be doing a happy dance thus putting an end to this very intense year, (yet with concern about what the new year will bring.)



Teri Gandy-Richardson