The first time it happened to me, I was totally incredulous. John’s doctor was acting as though I did not exist. He swept right past me as he entered the room, introduced himself and shook John’s hand, but never even glanced at me. No eye contact whatsoever, no acknowledgment that I was even present. He was willfully, deliberately excluding me. When I did finally speak up, his eyes narrowed and he shot me a disapproving glance.

“You are not allowed to speak”: his silent message was loud and clear.

The occasion was John’s  introductory appointment with his liver surgeon. This doctor was young enough to be my son and from a culture which stresses respect for one’s elders. For him to behave in this way was totally an aberration, given his background. At this point, however, we had not yet been privy to any of the surgeon jokes our other doctors shared with us so gleefully. We had had no exposure to the stereotype of the arrogant surgeon. He, on the other hand, had no idea about the fierce determination of the caregiver wife he was shunning.

Apparently my experience with this doctor wasn’t all that unusual; when I shared my story with a dear friend on another island with a completely different set of doctors, she told me that she had the same experience with her husband’s doctor:

“Oh, yeah, Richard’s oncologist completely ignored me 99% of the time,” she confirmed.  “He never made eye contact, never acknowledged my presence at all.”

As the time drew near for our second appointment with the young surgeon, I gave a great deal of consideration to how I could change the scenario and force the surgeon to acknowledge me. After all, John and I were a team, and I was a vital part of the decision-making process. For him to  write me out of the equation was a critical error on his part. I had John’s Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare; any decisions that might have to be made during or immediately after surgery would fall to me. It was likely that he would have to consult with me at some point.

As I though about out last appointment and what went wrong, I  asked myself: What were the problems? How could I make sure they didn’t occur again?


He was a young doctor, with highly-developed surgical skills and a real drive to become “the best”– but he knew absolutely nothing about being married for 40 years, the role of loved ones in the healing process, or the power of compassion in medicine. This was an opportunity for John and I to teach our doctor some lessons that might take him years to learn on his own, to share our combined life experience in a way that could shape him into a truly fine doctor– at least, that was my vision. John thought that my aspirations were totally unrealistic.

Sooner or later, unless you are very fortunate, you will undoubtedly be faced with an arrogant doctor. The rest of this chapter in Shedding Light on the Cancer Journey details how John and I slowly taught this doctor (and many others) about the healing power of compassion and why it is essential for any doctor who aspires to the highest level of medicine to minister to more than just the physical body. My complete strategy for turning the tables on his arrogant behavior is detailed, step by step.

Two years after John’s death, I continue to have a very warm relationship with this doctor. There is no question that our letters and conversations with him had a profound impact, and that we helped to make him a better, more compassionate doctor.

All this and much more on the endless decisions and confusions of a cancer patient’s life– what your doctor doesn’t tell you, what could (until the publication of this book) only be learned  through hard experience– is now available in E-book format at Amazon:

The E-book can be read on any computer,  Ipad, Ipod Touch, Blackberry or Android– the reader is completely free and quickly downloadable from Amazon.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go towards the support of the 400 monks, nuns and yogis in the seven Tibetan monasteries of Tulku Orgyen Zangpo Rinpoche, who have devoted their lives towards building the foundation for peace and freedom from suffering for all beings in this world.


About surfingon

I live in Hawaii. I surf in the winter and swim in the summer. I have been a hospice volunteer with a contemplative-care oriented hospice for 25 years have been part of their team that trains new volunteers for the last 9 years. I have walked the colon cancer path with my beloved husband these past 5 years. He died very peacefully in April 2009. I now seek to share what we learned, to shed light on the many dark corners of this often mystifying, heartbreaking and heart-opening journey.
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