Colleen Moretti: What does a second opinion mean for a lung cancer patient?
Terri Conneran: It starts with asking for the second opinion. And it shouldn’t be something you sneak up on – it’s not like you sneak up on your longtime spouse or anything. It’s just talking to your doctor and saying, “You know what, let’s get a second opinion, let’s look at this with another eye at another center.” Going to see a specialist who has lung cancer, that’s all they focus on, is so important that you need to be able to go and it’s okay to ask. And if your doctor says, “I don’t know,” be more suspicious, because he should want to. They doctors are pretty used to what they call peer review, where one doctor talks to another doctor talks to another doctor and that’s outside of what they call a tumor board . The tumor board is an internal setting that is different from going to an outside cancer center. These comprehensive cancer centers have specialists who are up-to-date in cutting-edge and cutting-edge research areas. And the good news in lung cancer is that research is moving so fast that they need a specialist.
Moretti: What is the benefit of having a second opinion? How could it hurt a patient if they don’t get a second opinion?
Conneran: Not getting a second opinion, let’s start there. Think of your body as that beautiful race car. If I had a Ferrari, I would go see a specialist. If I was going to spend a lot of money to be there, I would want to know that I was doing exactly the right thing. Are you willing to risk your one and only body, your one and only mom or dad or sister or brother, with one opinion or do you also want to get the second? It is so important. And if you choose not to, that’s up to you. I understand the convenience, it is very inconvenient. It’s very embarrassing, it’s a bit strange, you feel outside your comfort zone. But it’s important enough to get all the information so you can do the right thing. You won’t get a second chance. And it’s sad to say. That’s what you’re risking. So when you have the second opinion, even if they say “Let’s do exactly what the first doctor said”, now I have 100% confidence. Now you can go there knowing it’s better. If they give you a different choice, that gives you an opportunity. Now you need to dig a little deeper, but now you know there are options. And these options can save lives, like literally saving lives. Often this is a biomarker test. Sometimes you hear the same information from a second doctor, but you hear it in a different way. And this clarity is comforting and inspiring for you.
Moretti: How do research hospitals versus real care play a role here?
Conneran: Honestly, I was really afraid of research. Before my diagnosis, my parents were the first generation to graduate from high school in their family, so I’m not from that kind of area at all. I didn’t realize that the research they were doing yesterday is the treatment I’m getting today. And that’s exactly what you need. Because looking the same way computers walked around today, I mean 20 years ago, we’re just kind of a dream. Cancer care has come so far, the chemo they do today is different from what they did then, they need to be managed better. Chemo is not always the first choice option. Sometimes you end up in therapy, you may end up in targeted therapy, you may end up in radiation therapy or something like that. There are different options, but you won’t know that as a patient. How would you know if you weren’t going to talk to that doctor-researcher. And that one at the full center, one of the biggest centers because they have the depth of research. Likewise, I don’t go to Bob’s garage to buy a phone. I’ll go get it, whether I’m Team Android or Team Apple, I’ll go get one. I’m not just going to get Bob’s platform.
Moretti: How should patients tell their primary oncologist that they are going to seek a second opinion?
Conneran: Just spit it out. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I’d like to get a second opinion, what do you suggest?” And have the conversation. Your doctor, your oncologist in particular, should be part of this team. The same way your oncologist might suggest you go for a CT scan, he’s not doing the scam, where he’s going and suggesting you get radiation therapy, he’s not actually performing the radiation therapy he’s suggesting seeing a specialist. You have to go find this information. But you just have to ask and that’s really what advocacy is asking for, you’re not going to have the knowledge without having that ask. You can’t stop asking. And if you don’t understand, ask again.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.