Monday, February 24, 2020

DOCTOR SHOPPING 101 - by Sally Kalksma

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People will test drive several cars, sample multiple paint colors on their living room wall, even try different hairstylists in a 10-mile radius before finding their perfect match, but people just won’t go through all that research and time to find the right doctor! I just can't understand why some people will take the time to research what type of weed wacker to buy, but then just listen to the first doctor they talk to when they find out they have a serious illness. How does this make any sense? The first vacuum we see could have the worst suction power or shortest cord. We've got to shop around, yes, even for doctors.

The first thing I did when a general oncologist diagnosed me with Multiple Myeloma 12 years ago was research. Research on the type of cancer I had, the different treatment plans available, and who the best Multiple Myeloma specialists in the world were. There is a reason why there is some saying that goes “reading is power”. As a good rule of thumb, it is ideal to get at least three opinions before settling on a doctor and treatment plan.

Having a good rapport with your physician is one of the most important things you can do for your well being. You must trust your doctor, feel comfortable with your doctor and be able to discuss ANYTHING & EVERYTHING with your doctor. You need to choose a doctor that is the right fit for you. This goes for a treatment plan as well as your comfort level too!

I am fortunate enough to live in a metropolitan area and have access to great hospitals. My health is worth driving 1-3 hours to see a good doctor. I made appointments with 2 other oncologists, both Multiple Myeloma specialists and world-renowned in their field. They both worked at different university hospitals but had a very different approach to treating me.

The first specialist wanted to immediately start me on chemotherapy. I know several other fellow warriors who see this doctor. They love and trust him, but I needed another opinion. The second specialist said he was not going to treat me until my levels hit a magic number. He explained I was still in the smoldering stage and he wanted to wait till I hit stage one. He told me I looked beautiful and to continue running & drinking. Bingo, that was the doctor for me! He watched me every 3-6 months. I did not hit that special number and start treatment until 2016. Eight healthy, fun-filled, eventful years later!

Choosing this doctor was one of the most important and smartest decisions I have ever made. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I started treatment in 2008 since my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer 6 months after my diagnosis. He underwent a lot of treatment before passing away 8 months later.

I look forward to seeing my doctor. And like all of his patients in the waiting room, we don’t mind the wait to see him. No one complains. He’s that good! Even my friends and family members who occasionally accompany me also enjoy his bedside manner.

Your doctor is not the only person you should bond with. It’s important to get to know everyone on your healthcare team. Everyone has an important roll in your life. Learn what their job is, and do everything to help make it easier for them. You’re not their only patient.

You have a job too: you are your own advocate. Do not rely on someone else to schedule that appointment or forward the referral. You do it. And keep good notes because your insurance company needs that very important number you were told for that MRI scheduled at that facility on that date by that doctor! Remember what I just wrote earlier, “you’re not their only patient”.

Here’s one more bit of advice when getting opinions and follow up appointments..... Plan accordingly. Plan time for traffic, parking, then sitting around in a waiting room. Why do you think they call it a waiting room? Duh! Bring a book, tablet, pillow. Or play “I spy with my little eyes”, a favorite game of mine on long car rides.

Speaking of cars again, If you are ever faced with a serious illness, which I hope you’re not, then get in the driver’s seat and take control! Read, research and try your best to enjoy the ride!


SALLY KALKSMA was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2008. A year later, her husband passed from cancer. She took her stress out on the stairs at work during lunch. The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation heard about this and invited her to participate in the Empire State Building Run Up to raise awareness and funds for the MMRF. Within 5 years of competitive stair climbing, Sally became ranked 20th overall in the world and 5th overall in the nation by the World Tower Running Association. In 2016, she started treatment for Multiple Myeloma, and underwent an autologous stem cell transplant in 2017. Four months after her transplant, she ran a 5 mile race, and then competed in a stair climb. Today, Sally enjoys encouraging others going through adversity as a  cancer patient advocate,  a motivational speaker and an educational writer.  She was recently awarded a membership to the NY Cancer Resource Alliance and is now a content contributor for NYCRA NEWS.  For more information on Sally, visit:


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