Knowing Your Options When You’re Diagnosed

doctor with patientThe time of diagnosis can be a terrifying one. As a cardiothoracic surgeon, I’ve had to deliver diagnoses that I know will change a person’s life forever. Some will need to change their lifestyle, others will need drastic surgery, and still others may face imminent death. But what I’ve always loved about being a physician is that patient care is rarely the same even in cases where the diagnosis is identical. One patient might decide to go for medications while another goes vegan. One patient might elect for surgery while another decides to get their affairs in order and pass away surrounded by loved ones.

It’s for that reason that I think Angelina Jolie’s recent article on her ovary removal is so powerful and so important for all of us to hear.

It was best for her, but might not be for you

When dealing with celebrity stories, it can be tempting to think that what a celebrity did is what you should do too. After all, they often have access to the top experts in the field and can draw on professionals from a wide array of fields when making a choice. It might seem that they, of all people, have the best information and should have the best sense of what “the right thing” is to do. When Angelina had a bilateral mastectomy to ward off her increased genetic risk of breast cancer, many people talked about the “Angelina effect” since that act seemed to push other women with a similar diagnosis to make the same decision.

The important thing to remember is that we don’t all have the same family history, medical history or list of risk factors that she does. In both cases, she used all the information available to her to decide the very best course of action for her. In both cases, that entailed surgery and removal of potentially dangerous tissues. But I’ve met a several woman over the course of my career and time on the show that made the exact opposite decision. It might not have been the right decision for Angelina, but it was the right one for them.

Knowledge is power

Angelina’s powerful words remind us that every decision is unique because every patient is unique. Everyone deals with illness differently and weighs the pros and cons accordingly. The example to follow here is how Angelina went about deciding, regardless of the diagnosis. She consulted as many people as she could to figure out what was right for her. She took all the information she had gathered and decided how to move forward.

Her article details the process that every woman should follow when making a difficult medical decision: consult the experts, consult your loved ones, do some research, and then look into your heart for what makes sense for you. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to medical treatment. An informed decision made with the best information available at the time is always the right one, regardless of the diagnosis and outcome of that decision.

You’re stronger than you think

Angelina also serves as a powerful example of the strength we all hold when faced with serious and potentially life-threatening challenges. The terror of a serious diagnosis can be paralyzing. I’ve had patients tell me that the decisions they have to make are too difficult and that the challenges they face are too large.

But I’ve seen the way people draw on an immense inner strength in these trying times to face the formidable challenge of a dangerous diagnosis. I’ve seen entire communities rally behind someone faced with cancer or heart disease or terminal illness. Angelina’s story reminds us of the small army of people just waiting to help us when times get tough and who will bolster our inner power when we need encouragement the most.

If you haven’t already, take some time to read Angelina’s article. It’s powerful, inspiring, and exactly the message we need.