March 8, 2019

Patient Welcomed as Partner in Breast Cancer Treatment

Janet Carson

Janet Carson

Janet Carson just wanted to be heard.

Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2007. Not long after the diagnosis, she had a double mastectomy and reconstruction performed at a Little Rock hospital. Her experience with her surgeon was more than acceptable, but she experienced problems with her oncologist.

As a horticulturist and an assistant professor for the University of ArkansasDivision of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, research is in Carson’s blood. She calls it “a questioning mind.” Consequently, there was no way she was going to approach this situation unprepared.

Carson also has an extensive family history regarding cancer. Both of her parents had the disease, as did three grandparents. Just a year before her diagnosis, her mother died due to complications from chemotherapy. This drove her follow-up treatment researching to even greater lengths.

When she first met with her oncologist before her surgery, she already had mixed thoughts about this physician. Although she did not enjoy the three-hour wait for the appointment, she presented her thoughts and believed there was a plan in place she could get behind.

That all changed after the surgery.

In her next meeting with the oncologist, things were different. Plans agreed upon before the surgery were no more. When Carson presented her research on treatment options, she felt stifled.

“The doctor did not want to be questioned or hear what I had read,” Carson said. ”She thought that she was in total control and did not want to listen to what I had to say.”

After the meeting, Carson found herself wanting a second opinion. Still sitting in the doctor’s parking lot, she called a friend, a nurse at UAMS, who subsequently arranged an appointment with Laura Hutchins, M.D., a hematologist and medical oncologist at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Once again, Carson presented her extensive research, but this time, the reception she received was much different.

“[Hutchins] turned her computer around, showed my husband and me her research and where to find more on our own,” Carson said. “We were a team. She wanted me to ask questions about her approach, and express my thoughts.”

Carson said there was a “night and day” difference in the way she was treated personally at UAMS and her previous doctor’s office.

“At the other place, I felt like it was a cattle call,” she said. “Even as big as UAMS is, I got more personable treatment there; I felt it.”

Carson, now eight years in remission, has not been disappointed in her continued experience at UAMS.

“It’s cutting-edge treatment,” she said. “I feel I’ve gotten the best treatment, and if something happens, I know there is something else to try.”

Now, Carson has found a way to give back, becoming a part of an advisory board and she still feels like she’s being heard.

“You can tell it’s important to them and they’re trying to involve patients and family,” Carson said. “UAMS is very concerned with making a patient’s treatment a partnership, and it really is. They want to listen to the family and the patient, as well as the nurses and doctors. It takes everyone working together.”