Oliver: There’s more than a little truth in ‘Don’t assume’

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

We’ve probably all heard the adage about what happens when we assume.

Or, in the case of my breast cancer journey, maybe it’s just me that looks a bit silly.

Turns out, there’s more to this cancer treatment than I had expected. Which, I suppose, would come as a shock to no one, least of all me.

I had done my due diligence, carefully researching each step along the way so that I might be able to follow along as my doctors tried to explain the process.

Problem is, knowledge is power, but a little knowledge might make you look like you know more than you do. Then you might actually miss out on vital information that could prove to be helpful.

Case in point was the offer of physical/occupational therapy after my double lumpectomy.

Sure, I’d read all about the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to lift my right arm as a result of having a couple of lymph nodes removed. My dear friends even went so far as to buy me button-up shirts so that I wouldn’t have to try to get T-shirts over my head.

As it turned out, I really had no problem with lifting my arm. So I thought I was in the clear when my surgeon asked if I wanted a referral to physical therapy.

No, no, I’m good, I blithely replied. See, I can lift my arm over my head, no problem.

I thought nothing more about it until I met with my radiology oncologist last week. When she asked if I had gone to physical/occupational therapy, I whipped out my ability to raise my arm.

She quickly pointed out that there was more to it than that. And she added that she wished we women would stop writing off therapy just because we can raise our arms.

Needless to say, I was then feeling a wee bit silly. And sheepishly requested the referral.

I’m glad I did because, yes, there is more to it than arm movement. I learned how I can get my lymph nodes to activate to help prevent lymphedema, a painful condition that I’m more at risk for because of the removal of those lymph nodes. I also learned how I can work to make the scar tissue from the surgery less of an issue, as well. So much for that assumption.

Then there was my assumption about genetic counseling. Or more accurately, I thought I knew what it was; turns out I had mixed it up with genetic testing.

My surgeon had ordered a genetic test to find out whether I had the gene known to be associated with breast cancer. I do not, which was a relief. But I do have a “variant of uncertain significance.”

It’s possible that my surgeon mentioned genetic counseling when she went over this with me. She’s very thorough, so I must have missed it.

When my medical oncologist asked me whether I had had genetic counseling, I kept saying that I had had the test. Clearly I was mixed up.

Somehow in all of this, I managed to not know that the company that did the genetic test had, in fact, recommended the counseling.

In came my radiology oncologist to point this out to me, even showing it to me in writing.

Well, now that you put it that way, perhaps I should get that genetic counseling after all.

Again, that’s what I get for assuming I know what I’m talking about. And thank goodness for my excellent team of doctors to make sure I do what I ought to be doing.

Despite myself.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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