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Getting a second opinion: Why it matters

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triple_negative_breast_cancer_second_opinion_why_it_matters.JPGBy Donna Patricia Brown

My pathology report from Fort Smith said the new breast cancer tumors had mutated from my original breast cancer. It was now breast cancer - no receptors. Tumors were found in my lungs and bones. My oncologist told me it was treatable but not curable.

I wanted a second opinion, and I wanted to go to MD Anderson.

Getting to MD Anderson
MD Anderson is known for its champion work in the field of cancer. I figured if I was going to battle, I'd better get a top-notch team to help win the war.

So, I requested an appointment through MD Anderson's website and called to get my medical files expedited so I could get in as soon as possible.


Obtaining records from seven different places in two different cities was challenging. But cancer was trying to kill me, and I needed chemo drugs!

Failure is not an option

Two weeks after my diagnosis in Fort Smith, I arrived at MD Anderson dressed in camouflage with a splash of hot pink. I was ready to fight cancer, or so I thought.

When MD Anderson agreed with the report from Fort Smith, reality hit me in the face.

It was hard to watch my life charted out on paper and hear repeatedly that each drug would eventually fail.  

Fail. I don't fail. I am a survivor who thrives. More importantly, my faith will not fail me. Fail? No.

My brain could not process the words the first time a doctor told me a drug had failed. So, what did this southern girl do? I swooned. That's right, I fainted.

When I came to, my first words were to my friend Vonda. "Are you taking pictures of this?" Then I told my doctor, Ricardo Alvarez, M.D. I was a secret shopper. People started running in and out of the room to revive me. It was kind of funny to watch from the floor. 

Dr. Alvarez is a very smart capable oncologist which is necessary when dealing with cancer, but he has two other qualities that contributed to making him perfect for directing my care.  

First, he communicated the truth about my condition and the necessary treatment with a calm confidence. And second, he knew how to laugh. Dr. Alvarez made coming to MD Anderson enjoyable and hopeful.    

Looking ahead

The two days between my fainting spell and the Thursday morning when I started chemotherapy gave me time to talk to God and get to a place where I could face my future.  

A future of weekly stage four treatment for cancer. A future with no hair. A future where I would feel the evaporation of time. A future where I would have to fight fear.

Stop the sad thoughts, I finally said to myself. Start battling the cancer of negative thinking and exchange it with words and works that generate positive energy.  

Good news from the second opinion
After a brief pity party, Vonda and I turned things around and started reaching out to people who crossed our paths at MD Anderson.

We talked to everyone. We made people laugh and connected with people who told me stories of hope.

Thursday morning, as I dressed in hot pink for my first visit to MD Anderson's chemotherapy clinic, I told God I was ready for whatever assignment he had for me.  

Less than an hour later, Dr. Alvarez shared some good news: No weekly chemo was necessary. Just a monthly chemo shot. 

Then, more good news: A new pathology report revealed that the cancer was estrogen-positive. This was a huge relief. It meant my tumors had receptors after all, giving me an easier treatment option.

This is news I never would have gotten had I not sought a second opinion. It makes me nervous to think what my treatment plan, quality of life and hope for a future would have been like had I not pushed for a second opinion.

MD Anderson has so many more resources to determine the truth about their patients' cancer, treatment options, and clinical trials. I am grateful to MD Anderson for taking the lead to end cancer. A world without cancer is a world worth the fight.  

If you feel you need another opinion, get one. It's your life, after all. You are worth the fight.

Patricia Brown was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2005 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. She is passionate about sharing her ability to find hope, strength and joy as she lives a lifestyle that includes cancer. Follow her journey. 

3 Comments

I honored to be able to share my journey.

A second opinion at MD Anderson's Morgan Welch Clinic saved my life too. I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Inflammatory Breast Cancer in the summer of 2007 and at diagnosis I was told it was "too late" and to get my affairs in order.
MD Anderson 's physicians felt they could help me and me and here I am five years later NED, no evidence of disease. Please ladies, get that second opinion, go to a research hospital, like MDA. You might no only save your life, but untold numbers of others educated due to your experience and research shared.
Thank you for for sharing your story.

Absolutely get that second opinion, especially if you have a feeling that something seems strange. My wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 1-2 years to live. After 2 years of treatment she was still alive and actually doing well aside from the side effects of the chemotherapy. We knew that something didn't fit and went for a second opinion. Turns out she was misdiagnosed and "only" has breast cancer. She is still going through treatment 7 years after that misdiagnosis, but at least she is being treated for the correct cancer!

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