The best surgeon?Posted: March 16, 2011
I’ve already scoped out a couple of message boards for cancer patients and survivors, one through the Thyroid Cancer Survivors Assn. and one through the Cancer Survivors Network. Support is great, but you have to be careful that you don’t let strangers on a message board freak you out too much.
Today, for example, I introduced myself to one group, and immediately I got a few well-meaning folks who told me how important it was to find a surgeon who does A LOT (yes, all caps) of thyroid surgeries. Well, that I knew. How much is A LOT? My surgeon, Dr. W, who was referred to me by my endocrinologist, told me he averages about one a week. That seemed like plenty to me, but what do I know? I was sick the day they taught thyroid surgery in journalism school.
Some of the message board people let me know that there are thyroid surgeons who do two a week. Sure enough, there are some who do two a day.
I have no doubt that more is better, but there must be a point of diminishing returns. Is a surgeon who did 100 TTs (total thyroidectomies) in the past year twice as good as one who did 50? I doubt it. Is it worth letting the cancer live on in my thyroid while I sift through doctors to try to find the best one? There is always a better doctor somewhere, but how much benefit is there in spending the time and energy looking for every incremental improvement, especially when I’m not qualified to judge the quality of a surgeon in the first place?
I didn’t know the answers to those questions myself, and I didn’t really trust the message board people to answer, because each would only know about his or her particular case. Fortunately, today I saw another endocrinologist. It wasn’t even for me. Our son is having some growth issues, so we have been seeing an endo to help rule out possible problems for him. So I asked her: How good is good enough?
She told me that she had heard good things about my surgeon. She also said if he says he does 50+ a year, that’s plenty. Someone who does more might be a little better, but there would still be just about the same risk of complications. Also, I may not be able to get in to see one of those guys for months. Besides, my procedure is pretty straightforward. It’s papillary cancer. I’m otherwise healthy. The risk of complications should be minimal, even with my surgeon who does only 50 a year.
So that’s what’s right for me.
You, your family and your doctors know what’s best for you. Don’t let any anonymous message board people or bloggers — well-meaning as they may be — convince you otherwise.
Of course, this is my story while I’m still five days away from surgery. Next week I may feel differently. I sure hope not.