Guest post by Suzanne Prichard, Cancer Hope Network Support Volunteer
Last month, Detroit oncologist, Dr. Farid Fata was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison for violating more than 550 patients’ trust and raking in more than $17 million from fraudulent billings. The doctor, for whatever personal reason he had, faced his patients, many of whom were seeing him for a second opinion, and tricked them into taking more doses of chemotherapy than was medically necessary.
I’ve been thinking about this case for a few weeks, theoretically trying to square the circle of my trust of my doctors with that of Fata’s patients. How could this happen? I wonder how many of these patients felt they could fully trust Dr. Fata. Even before I heard of this case, I had been asking my matches, as a Cancer Hope Support Volunteer, how they feel about their medical team. As CHN volunteers, we are not trained to give medical advice, and since I am not remotely qualified, I would never try. I only ask as part of a mini-assessment of how my matches feel overall about their diagnosis, so as to help them in the most complete way possible. I typically will use this topic to make them feel better about seeking a second opinion, if they are worried about this, or, to make them feel good about the fact that they and their families feel like they are on the right track.
I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in October 2010, and shortly thereafter, I was seeing a hematologist I trusted and felt completely safe with. Despite the fact that I had always prided myself on my independence, when it came to the crushing blow of a cancer diagnosis, and near complete disability, I found strength in my ability to let go and give the power of medical decisions to my doctor and my medical team. I must admit, this technique is not a common one, as most Americans, in my experience, want to be much more involved in these decisions, and take a very hands-on approach, compared to my “medical Zen.” In my conversations with Matches, I don’t always explain my approach unless they ask. Mostly, I listen, offer encouragement, answer their questions and try and give them the hope that comes from my voice, un-silenced by my 2010 diagnosis.
Since I heard the Dr. Fata story, I have been extra cognizant of the trust my Matches are affording me as a survivor of the same cancer they have. I like to give them kudos for reaching out, and asking for help, which is not always easy to do. This truly is a sacred trust, and I hope I can give them back something of equal value in our phone conversations.
No matter your situation or personal approach, when we can trust those who are helping us with a medical diagnosis, or any health issue, childcare assistance, a personal crisis, or any other challenge, we have a strength we can never have alone. We need to take the leap of faith that the other person will not violate the trust, since I believe most of the time, they will not. For Dr. Fata’s survivors, and the families of his former patients, I hope they can understand this: I hope they can let go of the distrust they must certainly feel, in order to gain the strength to face life’s inevitable challenges.