what thoughts rattle around in your brain when you're a mom of a toddler and a breast cancer patient?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Just Breathe

After careful thought and consideration, I've engaged myself in a malpractice lawsuit against the doctors that misdiagnosed me back in my 5th month of pregnancy. In early January, I shopped around and found a large lawfirm in Orange County; they were willing to take my case on contingency which means that they only get paid if they win by either trial or settlement.

Part of the lawsuit process is for each person involved to give testimony by deposition. I went first and mine was done in two parts because it took so many hours. During part one, my own lawyer asked me questions so that I could tell my story. The depositions are all transcribed and videotaped so that if the case goes to trial, the jury will be able to watch each one. I was deposed in part one for approximately 6 hours.

My lawyer did a great job of deposing me and while it was very emotional to have to go over the whole thing, I think it will be worth it in the end, at least I hope it will. I haven't been able to return to work since going into the hospital in June and I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back. After all, I'll be getting chemo for at least the next 5 months and for all I know, I'll be getting chemo of one kind or another for the rest of my life. I think there may be times when I get a real break from chemo because my cancer might go into full remission. In order for that to happen, I would have to test NED (no evidence of disease) by some sort of reliable test or scan and my oncologist would have to make a leap of faith that my cancer had gone into hiding well enough to allow me a reprieve. This is just a guess on my part because I've never actually spoken to my onco to ask him what happens if I ever do get to a place where I'm NED. The point is, if I can't return to work, how do I help support my family? The way I see it, if my cancer had been diagnosed sooner (like back when I first found the lump), my treatment would have very likely been much easier, shorter and more successful at full remission and/or cure.

Anyway, part two of my deposition was where I got cross-examined by the opposing lawyers. There were three lawyers present and each asked me his questions one at a time and each lawyer had a distinct style of questioning. The thing each lawyer had in common was that the theme of the questioning appeared to be that it was MY FAULT for getting breast cancer. Hard to believe but absolutely true. My own lawyer had warned me that this was a possible defense so I was as ready as I could be for such a rotten accusation but was still emotionally devasting.

One lawyer dug back to medical records from 1994. He found a note in my file from my general physican where he suggested a baseline mammogram. I was in my mid-twenties at the time and I didn't feel that I had a high risk for breast cancer, so I didn't get the mammogram. For those of you who are not breast cancer-savvy, I should point out that it is common for a woman to receive her first mammogram at age 35+ so my decline of the test was not unusual. This lawyer did not come right out and say that my later diagnosis of breast cancer was my fault because I blew off this test in 1994 but he strongly implied it. I see this as a weak defense because I know how fast my cancer grows and if it had been there in 1994, I'd either be dead now or the tumor would have been the size of Qualcom stadium by the time I was in my mid-30s when I found the lump in the first place. And just for the record, it was the size of a jellybean when I first found it, not the size of a sports stadium.

Another lawyer tried to establish that even though I had the opinions of two doctors saying that the lump I found during my pregnancy was nothing to worry about, that didn't mean that my obligation to my own health stopped there. He implied that I should have taken it upon myself to seek a third opinion or that I should have demanded testing to accurately determine the lump's pathological origin. And he implied that my ob/gyn did everything he was responsible to do simply by referring me to another doctor.

As a more educated medical patient writing to you now, I realize that I must be aggressive in my requests for tests if I think they should be ordered and I must always be my own advocate. But as a pregnant woman who was busy worrying about the health and safety of her unborn child, I didn't. I simply didn't understand that not all doctors are trustworthy, nor do they know everything about all facets of medical care, and worst of all, they may not care that much about my personal health.

Lawyer number three made it his business to ask the same questions over and over, only reworded purposely to try to trick me into giving a different answer, thereby making me appear inaccurate and inconsistent in my knowledge of what actually happened. As I began to get more and more tired, I was less able to see through the questions as repetitive, so in all likelihood, some of the answers I gave probably did make it seem like I didn't know what happened and when, even though the entire incident is very fresh in my memory.

Part two of my depostion lasted about 7 hours and I cried through about half my testimony. I tried hard to breathe and relax before answering, but these lawyers really came after me and they each did their best to make it a terrible experience. I'm sure they are paid well for this. I hope they can sleep well at night knowing that they are trying to get inadequate doctors off the hook by use of deception instead of actual proof.