Today I had a dreaded mammogram appointment. Dread, dread, dread. Fret, fret, fret. Ativan, ativan, ativan. (Don’t worry, I only took one Ativan).
I have this theory if all us patients write detailed thank you notes to health professionals who care for us in exemplary ways – those who go ‘over and above’ – and we make sure we also send these notes to their managers, then maybe, just maybe, it will dawn on administrators what is important to patients. If these health professionals are held up as role models, as identified by the patients, the people they signed up to serve, then the others who do not get recognized or worse, those who get complaints, will pale in comparison. Then the health system will tip towards the champions and consider their actions as best practice. The others will slowly fade away. This is the vision that I dream in my dreams.
I once called this the Thank You Project.
Here is the letter I sent to the manager of the young lady who was my mammogram technologist today:
August 7, 2018
I wanted to write a note to say kudos to a mammography technologist named Sarah who did my mammogram this afternoon.
I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer last year. I have had mammograms at other centres and have to say that the experience with Sarah today was over and beyond what I’ve experienced anywhere else.
Sarah was welcoming. She introduced herself by name, made great eye contact and gave me a warm smile, which immediately alleviated my anxiety. My last mammogram was excruciatingly painful, as my left breast still has quite a bit of edema from my treatments. I was quite nervous and woke up early this morning worrying about the appointment.
Sarah’s tone set me at ease. (The dim lights and soft music are nice touches in the waiting room too). I was happy to be offered a gown (other places don’t have them – you have to strip in front of the technologist, which is uncomfortable) and Sarah walked me through what was going to happen. She also let me know what she was doing as she was doing it, and checked on me as she went along to make sure I was okay. She apologized for the pain that was inflicted on my sore side.
Afterwards, she told me what the next steps were with the report, so I knew what to expect and how to follow up with my physician myself.
These all might seem like minor things but they are very important to patients. Us folks who have already had breast cancer arrive at follow up appointments carrying along the extra baggage of trauma from our treatment and having had the life-shaking experience of having had cancer. Often it was the mammogram that identified we had cancer to begin with, so going for mammograms reminds us of that dark and horrible time when we first got diagnosed. Of course, we are also scared that the mammogram might find that the cancer has come back – recurrence is a deep fear that never goes away.
Being treated by kind staff with respect and dignity helps alleviate some of our suffering. The experience with Sarah was about a thousand times better than the one I had at a private DI place a few months ago. After I saw Sarah, I felt calm and ok, not traumatized and rattled as had happened at the last place.
Please pass on my gratitude to Sarah for her professional and compassionate work with us vulnerable women and let her know she’s helping us heal by making a positive contribution to the well-being of cancer patients. She does this through her smile, her gentle approach and clear explanations. She’s a real rock star and your hospital – and us patients – are lucky to have her.