ATthe end of August last year, my law practice felt busy, I received some nice publicity in the local newspaper—and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the first time in a while, I landed on the other side of the professional relationship: a vulnerable patient/client in need of pro-
fessional help to navigate a difficult patch in life. Sitting in clinic waiting rooms with pastel walls, silk
flower arrangements, and countless brochures bearing the pink ribbon logo, I had plenty of time to
think… about my cancer experience, and my work as a divorce lawyer.
I learned a lot from the professionals charged with guiding my decisions and safeguarding my
long-term wellbeing. And I have a new perspective on what people want and need from professionals
providing support during an unexpected life detour. These are the things my medical team provided
that served me the most during last year’s health crisis.
by Leigh Noffsinger
First and foremost, I want professionals who specialize in the narrow area of services I need. My surgeon performs more than 400 breast cancer surgeries per year.
She doesn’t do appendectomies or hernia repairs. Her sole focus is on breast cancer, and she has handled countless cases very similar to mine. All three doctors who
treated me specialize in cancer. They have so much experience treating patients
like me that they could anticipate my questions before I’d even asked them.
EASY ACCESS TO SUPPORT AND INFORMATION
The day I received my diagnosis, my hospital assigned two “nurse navigators” to my case.
They gave me a three-ring binder packed with information about every step of my treat-
ment, scheduled all my appointments, checked on test results, periodically called me to
check in, and made themselves available as resources for whatever I might need. Just
knowing I could pick up the phone and reach them helped to keep my anxiety in check.
WHAT CANCER TAUGHT ME ABOUT
BEING A DIVORCE ATTORNEY
THE SENSE THAT I’M THE PRIORITY PATIENT
Living in the Seattle area, I was fortunate to have many nationally recognized options for cancer treatment. I chose a top-notch hospital with a smaller cancer center that felt more personal. My surgeon
said she aims to have each patient feel like her only patient, and I was honored and humbled by that
experience. I never once felt rushed—whether crying as I went through my list of questions about cancer
recurrence that my oncologist had already answered (and patiently answered yet again), or making small
talk with my two radiation therapists to make the time pass more quickly. I truly felt that all of my professionals were fully present and exclusively focused on me during my time with them.
None of my medical professionals gave any guarantees, but they did offer many helpful messag-
es: “Your feelings are normal.” “Things will get easier.” “You’re doing a great job staying strong.”
“You can get through this.” Anyone going through a life crisis—whether divorce or cancer—can
feel isolated and lonely, and even crazy at times. It helps to be reminded of our shared humanity,
and that we’re completely “normal,” even during the hardest days. © i