The Joy of a New Oncologist

The Joy of a New Oncologist
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oncologists

I seem to have bad luck with oncologists. I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma a little over 11 years ago. But in the last five years, I have had five different oncologists.

I saw my first oncologist for six years, until he left the practice to go into teaching. The next one retired. The third one got his dream job at a research hospital. Then another one retired. And now I’m on No. 5.

It’s frustrating to change oncologists. We want to be comfortable with any doctor that we see, but it seems even more true with oncologists. They seem more likely to hold our lives in their hands.

But this is a column about hope, so I try to see each change as a reason to be hopeful.

And my latest oncologist gives me reason to be hopeful. For one thing, he’s young, so he isn’t going to retire any time soon. For another, he’s a lymphoma specialist (some of the others I saw were general oncologists).

Here’s why that matters to me: His medical focus is on my disease, and only my disease. So he doesn’t just know about what’s happening in the world of lymphoma right now, but also what will be happening in the future.

During my first visit with him, we did all of the usual oncologist-patient stuff. He asked me lots of questions about my history, and how I was doing lately. He felt my nodes for any swelling. He took blood and made sure my numbers were OK. As we were finishing, he asked if I had any questions for him. I had one: “What excites you most about lymphoma research these days?”

Have you ever talked to someone who is really, really into a subject, and paid attention to them when they talk about it? Their eyes get a little wider, and their speech gets a little faster and a little louder. That’s what I saw when the new oncologist answered my question.

He told me about CAR T-cell treatments, and as much as they have been helping people already, he expected them to be even more improved in five years. He talked about bispecific treatments. He said the hospital was involved in a clinical trial for one, and it’s a treatment that we might consider for me if and when I need treatment again. He told me about some checkpoint inhibitors that had been approved in the last couple of years, and others that were on their way to approval.

Now, I’m a Cancer Nerd. I read medical journals for fun. I followed along with most of what he was saying.

But even if you aren’t a Cancer Nerd, I recommend you ask your doctor (especially if she’s a lymphoma specialist) this same question. Or watch videos of oncologists discussing the latest findings from a medical conference like that of the American Society of Hematology. Even if you don’t understand all of the details, pay attention to the excitement in their voices.

Because there’s nothing that brings hope like a lymphoma expert who’s excited about the future.

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