When Your Oncologist Fires You
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
FEBRUARY 21, 2017
When your oncologist says something like: "I don't really need to see you anymore", it can feel as though you are being fired. Some people, of course, are delighted and hope never to again see this doctor, no matter how respected and beloved. Others feel that a major life vest has been removed and that the world feels shakier. As far as I know, there are no standard rules about this situation, and different doctors, different institutions and practices handle it in a variety of ways.
I am told that some hospitals have quite rigid guidelines. For different kinds of cancer, after X number of years of good health, the patient is politely told not to return unless there is a problem. At other places, including ours, there seems to be more flexibility, and it becomes a conversation and shared decision. I know that my husband continues to see some patients twenty plus years, even thirty plus years, after the conclusion of their treatments because they want to see him, to metaphorically touch home base, once a year.
From the perspective of health and safety, you can assume that this won't happen unless the doctor is sure that it won't be harmful for you. There have been a number of studies that indicate that well-informed PCPs can provide equally good follow up for people post cancer. The trick is knowing when to refer the patient back to the oncologist or to another specialist. Some people are relieved to leave Cancer World and spend their doctor time with a PCP. Others are only reassured by an oncologist. I hope that you have the chance, when the time comes, to have a conversation about this transition, and that your voice will be heard.
From Cure Today:
What Do You Do When Your Oncologist Says Your
Treatment Is Done
What do you do when your oncologist says, “You are completely done with
treatment, and I no longer need to see you anymore”? This just happened to
I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago when I was 32 years old. I was pretty much convinced that, even if I was lucky enough to survive cancer, I’d have to see an oncologist for the rest of my life. Turns out, at least for me, that is not necessarily the case. I thought for sure that if an oncologist ever said to me that I was totally complete with treatment and I could go back with just seeing a primary care doctor, I would flip with joy. That’s not exactly how I responded to the news. Last December marked my 5 1/2-year cancerversary. At that oncology appointment, my oncologist said those very words to me. “You are all done.”
I just sat there. I looked around thinking maybe another person was sitting there with me, because surely he couldn’t mean me. When I saw that no one else was there, I still wasn’t sure it was me he was referring to. I think at one point I heard crickets chirping in the room because it was so quiet. Finally, I mustered up the words to ask if he was serious.
Actually, I think I hit the floor on both knees and begged him to say otherwise. I surprised myself with my reaction. Why was I so completely freaked out that this doctor didn’t need to see me with every passing six months of time? I had had cancer for crying out loud! Shouldn’t an oncologist be a part of my life for ever and ever? I think this situation surprised me more than hearing the words that I had been diagnosed with cancer in the first place.