Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Onco Wars

Imagine two oncologists starting a practice, then imagine the same two oncologists having a falling out two years later. Welcome to the Onco Wars, raging now at the office where I have been receiving care for my chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

I'll call them Dr. Belle and Dr. Tower. You can think of them as Godzilla vs. Megalon, with all the attendant fire-breathing and foot-stomping that entails. 

On January 23, Dr. Belle, my doctor, wrote a letter to her patients:

"It is with sadness and a heavy heart that I announce that, due to unforeseen circumstances, I will no longer be able to attend to you as your physician. This letter is to advise you that I will not provide professional medical services to you after January 30, 2012. Your current condition requires follow up and I encourage you to find a new physician promptly to continue this care . . . I suggest you contact your insurance plan representative for assistance in locating a new hematologist/oncologist to assume your care . . ."

And on January 27, Dr. Tower wrote to Dr. Belle's patients:

"Dr. Belle has recently informed us, and sent a letter to you, stating that she will be leaving the practice effective 1/30/12. Let me assure you that our office still remains committed to serving your needs and assisting in your care. I understand that Dr. Belle's departure may be upsetting to you, but I assure you that I am more than willing and able to assume your care, and would in fact be honored to do so . . ."

There is no doubt an interesting back-story here, which I don't imagine I will ever know. For me and for Dr. Belle's other patients, the big news is that we don't have a doctor anymore. Dr. Tower wants us to stay, but I hear through the grapevine that a number are choosing to go.

For me, all this comes at the worst possible time. With a lymphocyte count of about 260,000, hemoglobin of 9.4, and platelets finally having dropped to a Stage 4-level 85, the need for treatment is staring me squarely in the face, if not also socking me squarely in the jaw.

I have spun the wheel of fortune and picked a name from the measly list my health plan offers. I'll be seeing the new name soon, and hopefully I'll like this person enough to make them my new onc. Meanwhile, I won't rule out seeing Dr. Tower. But since insurance won't cover treatment at that practice, it may be time to cut the cord and go. Especially since it has been pretty much cut for me.  



Anonymous said...

Ouch indeed!!!

You certainly have gotten on well with Dr. Belle, but circumstances beyond your control make the contemplated change necessary. Given that your insurance will not cover care by Dr. Tower the choice has been made easy, even if regretful. No one likes being made to walk the plank, but we all like to think that we have more than one option when we reach the end of the plank...turn around and face the music, do a triple flip off of the board, sink or swim...there are always options awaiting those with the forethought and courage to make them.

Fortunately you have indicated that you will be seeing some CLL expert at U of A in the near future. Surely he will give you some good insight as to how best to proceed and even if you don't enter a trial there it affords you a good opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with a CLL expert close enough geographically to assist you down the road. This makes starting up with a new oncologist closer to home less daunting and ultimately less problematic!

Good luck, David... keep in touch,


Grateful said...

Can you find out where Dr. Belle is going?

dirtrider said...

Don't wait to long. Sometimes I wish I treated sooner. Pick the poison and get started. I know you will feel better, have lots more energy and won't have to worry for awhile. Good luck


David Arenson said...

Thanks for the advice and support. Please see next post. Things are looking better . . . I do believe Dr. Belle may be heading back to Louisiana, BTW. Nice cuisine, but a little humid for my taste . . .