A mother who beat two cancers in one year reveals why patients should always seek a second opinion after a terrible experience with a ‘rude’ doctor.
Sarah McDonald, of California, was told by telephone that she had a rare and incurable cancer of her salivary gland from an “arrogant” radiologist who had not even looked at her scans during her last appointment.
The experience prompted the 54-year-old to check for a lump in her breast that she’d heard was harmless, but the second assessment revealed it to be stage three cancer.
Sarah was miraculously cancer-free a year later, but she encourages others to seek a second or even third opinion when it comes to their health and to always trust your gut in her new book The Cancer Channel.
Author Sarah McDonald (pictured), from California, was diagnosed with breast cancer just two months after discovering she had an incurable adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC).
In 2012, the mother-of-one noticed a lump on the floor of her mouth after a routine dental cleaning, calling the dentist to ask what it could be.
“She said, ‘on the one hand it could just be an infection and we’ll just give you antibiotics and on the other hand there’s this super rare cancer, but I’m sure it’s not,'” Sarah said. to FEMAIL.
“Of course, after meeting many specialists and having many tests and scans and biopsies, we unfortunately found out that it was exactly what it was.”
The lump turned out to be adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), or as Sarah likes to call it ‘a bad salivary gland cancer’, but getting the diagnosis was no mean feat thanks to an ‘arrogant’ radiologist.
“I came into the clinic and he showed off all the other doctors. He was dismissive and told me, “This really isn’t cancer, you’re such a hypochondriac,” but he hadn’t looked at my scans,” she said.
Sarah got the news that she had a rare cancer of the salivary gland over the phone from a ‘dismissive’ doctor who hadn’t even looked at her scans at her previous appointment
He called me five days later and said, ‘I know I told you it wasn’t cancer, but I was wrong, it’s cancer’ and told me it was incurable. I wasn’t sure how to react.’
His dismissive attitude continued as Sarah asked questions about surgery, her prognosis, and seeing a specialist.
The doctor told her he wouldn’t know her prognosis until she had surgery, so he would write her a “letter of recommendation” to a specialist.
Then he said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re a smart girl, you’ll figure it out’ and then we hung up. I was done with him,’ Sarah said.
Sarah took her scans to another medical center where her diagnosis was confirmed, but the experience reminded her of a seemingly harmless lump in her breast.
She discovered the lump six years earlier and after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsies, doctors determined it was not cancer, but during a consultation with her surgeon, Sarah asked if she should have her breast checked again.
Her initial diagnosis inspired Sarah to have a lump in her breast rechecked six years after she was told it was harmless. It turned out to be stage three breast cancer
“He said, ‘If it makes you feel better, go see it,’ which made me feel like a real hypochondriac, like I’m making too much of it,” Sarah said.
“But I thought to myself I should know for my peace of mind.”
Just two months after her initial diagnosis, Sarah received the news that she had stage three breast cancer, which had nothing to do with the ACC at all.
“In many ways, I like to think that the ACC saved my life because it encouraged me to be diagnosed with breast cancer before it was too late,” she said.
Sarah started radiation to her mouth while receiving chemotherapy for her breast cancer at the same time
Sarah has no grudge against the doctors who misdiagnosed her all those years ago, or even the radiologist who was rude to her on the phone.
“It turns out that doctors are people. Doctors miss things,’ she laughed.
“As shocked as I felt that first doctor was, he didn’t do it on purpose and my OBGYN and the surgeon who misdiagnosed my cancer (breast) wasn’t on purpose, they weren’t out to get me to get. .’
Sarah started radiation to her mouth while receiving chemotherapy for her breast cancer.
‘It turns out that chemo intensifies radiation. Two weeks after that six-week protocol, the technicians saw things in my mouth that they normally see after six weeks of radiation,” she said.
10 things you can do for someone you love who has been diagnosed with cancer
- Show up – Check in. Call, write, text, appear in person
- Asking questions
- Talk about topics other than cancer
- Don’t give advice
- Offer to drive to appointments (and join in)
- Offer to run an errand
- Offer to do a job
- Buy something cozy and / or thoughtful for your loved one
- Invite/Involve your loved one in regularly scheduled social activities
- Offer to help their caregiver
Source: The Cancer Channel
Her mouth bled and burst into sores making it “impossible” to eat, so she postponed her chemotherapy, delaying the treatment process by four months.
“At one point I had something like 21 canker sores in my mouth with a dime-sized one on the back of my tongue,” she said.
“There were probably three weeks where I could only eat chicken broth, if I could get myself to eat it, and I’d fortify it with a little truffle salt, but the pain felt like it would last forever.”
However, the physical pain was no match for the “mental anguish” Sarah was experiencing.
“My mental health has suffered greatly. Especially if the prognosis was not clear. It was a very dark time and I spent a lot of time panicking, fighting or fleeing,” she recalls.
“I told my doctor, ‘I’m so stressed, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a heart attack before any of these cancers have a chance to kill me.'”
Sarah attributes her body’s response to her treatments to the anti-anxiety medication she was then prescribed along with yoga, meditation, acupuncture, “energy work and guided imagery” that helped her relax.
In March 2013, just 14 months after learning about the ACC, Sarah was completely disease-free, but she will need to keep a close eye on her salivary gland as the cancer may return.
She has published a book about her experience called The Cancer Channel, which aims to help people who are going through the same thing or who know and love someone who is dealing with the disease.
Sarah (pictured right with her husband Geoff) describes her experience in her book that aims to help people who are going through the same thing and who know and love someone dealing with cancer
Sarah’s four biggest pieces of advice for someone who has just received unwanted health news are “understand your diagnosis, get a second opinion, choose doctors you want to work with, and rally your support.”
‘Doctors can make mistakes, doctors can have different opinions, so get some opinions on what the treatment is, what the protocols could be. Make sure you love your doctors,” she said.
“You will spend a lot of time with them and you will have to entrust your life to them. You have to feel that they hear you and that they listen to you.’
Sarah McDonald’s top five things NOT to say to someone with cancer
1. “You got this” or “Cancer chose the wrong person to mess with”
Why: Because I don’t feel like I have this. Cancer is scary, unpredictable, and telling me you have this makes me feel like I’m getting better. Everything rests on MY shoulders.
And when you say that “cancer picked the wrong person,” I feel like I always have to be strong, when what I really feel is vulnerable and scared.
2. ‘You have a great attitude’
Why: Because no one has a great attitude about having cancer. Cancer actually annoys me.
But I’m afraid if I say out loud how I really feel, I might not be much fun to be around and I really need people around me that I love right now. So the reality is I pretend I have a great attitude.
3. ‘Let me know what I can do for you?’
Why: Because cancer requires ninja-level project management skills to keep track of all doctor’s appointments and cancer treatments and battles with the insurance company.
It feels like you’re asking me to be in charge of you and that feels unfair. It’s adding to my overwhelming to-do list rather than taking it off.
4. ‘I could never go through what you’re going through’
Why: Because you could and would. Just like I didn’t choose cancer, you would do anything to beat cancer too.
It’s your gentle way of saying I’m some kind of cancer hero – but please don’t make me sound like a hero – because I’m not. I’m scared and I hate this and I’m just doing everything I’ve been told to try to stay alive.
5. ‘I had an aunt who had cancer…’
Why: Because all cancers are different and what worked for your aunt may or may not be what the doctors think will work for me.
The experience you had ten years ago with your aunt’s breast cancer does not translate well today into the treatment and prognosis of the salivary gland or lung or prostate or brain.
Source: The Cancer Channel