When my charming husband, Stephen, told me the freckle on my upper back thigh was starting to "look scary," I thought two things: 1) He noticed the back of my thigh (swoon) and 2) Time to find a dermatologist I'm going to like spending some time with (sigh).
Of course, I first had to "WebMD" it. I clicked on WebMD.com's Cancer Health Center, selected the "melanoma" link, and found myself whipping through the slide shows. "That's what it looks like," Stephen pointed to one image. And off I went in search of a new doctor.
Several weeks later after a few visits to different dermatologists, I faced the music. "I was wondering why you didn't call me back on Friday when I called with your test results," my new derm, David Colbert, MD, said when I got back to him the next Monday. I didn't want to ruin my weekend, I explained and heard him sigh: another patient with avoidance tendencies. But I also heard him understand.
"The diagnosis is localized squamous cell carcinoma," Dr. Colbert said, gently (and when I checked WebMD again later, I was relieved to learn it is highly curable). He then explained what needed to be done in a way that was so compassionate and comprehensive that I thanked the existence of people smart and disciplined enough to attend medical school. And generous and articulate enough to be able to converse with a nonmedical person and make it understandable. And able to do all that without causing undue worry or panic.
This past week I flew to Los Angeles from New York (with a sore back thigh, to boot) to attend the annual Race to Erase MS fundraising event led by the determined and courageous MS patient Nancy Davis of the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis and its Center Without Walls program. Again, I was deeply touched to hear doctors speak to an audience of patients and their families in a language all could understand.
Watching them present their scientific findings in an enlightening, understandable, hopeful, and always truthful way is, for me, equal to watching great professional athletes perform. So remember: Never lose hope.
And keep asking questions. Finding what is right for any one person is an individual path and personal process.
Along with the power of love and laughter, I believe that being knowledgeable about health is perhaps the greatest skill we have for living well.
And being able to make the message understandable and personally motivating is worthy of a gold medal.
Yours in well-being,
Nan-Kirsten Forte, MS
Editor in Chief, WebMD the Magazine