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It's Worth Getting a Second Opinion

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The headline splashed across my newsfeed, shared by a friend who works as a geneticist with patients fighting cancer every day: “Prominent Michigan Cancer Doctor Pleads Guilty: ‘I Knew That It Was Medically Unnecessary.’”

My heart caught in my chest as I read on.

Dr. Farid Fata, an oncologist in Michigan, has admitted to prescribing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments to otherwise healthy patients — telling them they had cancer in order to collect money from their insurance companies and Medicare.

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These treatments do not come without side effects, and several of his previously healthy patients have come together in a civil suit against him. But no monetary compensation could make up for the ways in which he has irreparably altered their lives; some losing limbs and now facing chronic health conditions as a result of his unnecessary treatment practices, while others were actually brought to death by the treatments themselves.

It all brought me back to that day, just over five years ago now, when a doctor told me he was convinced I had ovarian cancer. I was young, it would have been rare, but he wanted me to agree to a full hysterectomy. After that, he said he would refer me to an oncologist for further treatment.

I didn’t have cancer. But I walked out the door that day believing that I did. Calling my father and bursting into tears as I sobbed, “Cancer. It’s cancer.”

He would have left me barren, unnecessarily, at the age of 26, without ever having been given even the chance to try conceiving.

I am thankful every day that I chose to get a second opinion before moving forward. Something wasn’t adding up, and the next doctor to look at my records agreed. She said cancer was a possibility, but she wasn’t so convinced as to want to pursue such extreme surgical options just yet. Instead, she asked me to consent to exploratory surgery — with the goal being simply to gain further answers and save as much of my reproductive organs as possible.

It was after that surgery that I was officially diagnosed with endometriosis, confused as cancer by my original doctor because of the solid cysts I had forming on each of my ovaries that were, in fact, made of endometrial tissue.

I did not have cancer.

I don’t believe that first doctor had the same nefarious motivations as Dr. Fata, I just think he was careless. He would have given me a hysterectomy, and then he would have sent me on my way – convinced that he had done what was best, and that it would have been my ultimate fate as an endo patient anyway.

Perhaps he would have been right, as I do now find myself contemplating this option more than ever before. But he would have robbed me of the years it took to come to peace with that decision. He would have left me barren, unnecessarily, at the age of 26, without ever having been given even the chance to try conceiving.

I would have forever wondered, “What if?”

I had always been the girl who trusted the advice of her medical practitioners. I figured they were the ones who had gone to school for years and earned their degrees, surely they were more knowledgeable than me. I had never previously thought to question what I was being told by doctors. But after that incident, I became wary — prone to seeking out second opinions, doing my own research and never fully trusting in anything I was told.

There are those who would say I take it too far. That I am the annoying patient all doctors dread and that I should simply learn to trust, because … science.

But science is fallible, and so are doctors.

If they weren’t, we wouldn’t now be discussing the victims of a doctor who chose to use his profession as a means of harming others for his own personal gain.

What Dr. Fata did is horrific. It’s terrifying to imagine someone in his position being so blatantly evil. And it’s obvious he isn’t representative of all those within the medical community. I have many friends who are in the medical field and who are just as horrified by his actions as I am.

Seek second opinions. Look for your own answers. And never consent to any procedure or treatment until you are confident it is the right answer for you or your child.

But people like him only increase the level of distrust toward the medical profession that already exists within people like me.

As a mother now, I work to temper that distrust as best I can. I still ask questions. I still do my own research. I still push the line and make decisions that sometimes go against standard medical advice. But I try really hard to be reasonable in all of that — to trust where I can and to remember that there are so many benefits to modern medicine as well, that there are certainly medical practitioners with the best interest of their patients in mind.

There is far more good than bad.

Still, if Dr. Fata teaches us nothing else, it should be to never trust blindly when it comes to major medical decisions. Seek second opinions. Look for your own answers. And never consent to any procedure or treatment until you are confident it is the right answer for you or your child.

Patients died in Dr. Fata’s care. Patients who would likely otherwise still be here. They lost their lives because they trusted a man who valued his bank account more than his oath.

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And for that, he deserves to rot in jail.

My heart goes out to his victims and his families, but I have no sympathy at all for Dr. Fata. Because not only has he destroyed the lives of so many with his callousness, cruelty and selfish desires, he has also given me (and others like me) one more reason to distrust.

In a world where we would all be better off if we could simply believe in those who are meant to keep us healthy.

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