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Carolyn Hax: No, your wife’s cancer is not about your career

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am a surgery resident training in a prestigious program. My wife was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, which was diagnosed after she saw (at my behest) my program director who happens to be a cancer surgeon with a national reputation. She has since met with the multidisciplinary team and started on chemotherapy.

The surgery part of her treatment won't happen for a few months, but here is my problem: My wife does not want my program director to be her surgeon! She thinks he is a "cold fish," and wants to ask a younger woman — whom she has met through departmental social events only — to do her surgery. The woman is also fellowship trained in surgical oncology, so there is not an issue of her competence.

I have tried to explain to my wife this would be an affront to my program director and would make things awkward for me, but she is pretty adamant. Please help.

— Surgeon

Surgeon: So, a recap: Your wife is fighting for her life, and you’re worried about the cost of insulting Mr. National Reputation to your “prestigious” career.


Even if your rationale weren’t jaw-droppy, it’s still Her Body. Find a way to make it not awkward, and give her what she wants without making her fight you for it.

Or just be awkward. Sweet Cheez-Its. She gets the surgeon she wants.

Make something up as a reason. “She wants a female surgeon.” You can craft some verbal fig leaf for the program director — assuming you even need to say anything.

This is traumatic and scary for both of you, so I’ll offer the grace of considering that this is your way of feeling like you can control even one small part of a traumatic and scary thing. But overruling your wife on her care preference is not the place to assert your power. Keep your focus on supporting your wife.

I’m sorry this happened, and hope she’s okay.

Dear Carolyn: I've been having panic attacks and severe depression because of retirement, health issues and my husband's health issue. I started seeing a therapist, but I don't seem to be making any progress. We go over the same issues and he has good suggestions, but I just can't seem to break out of my "stuckedness." Should I look for a different therapist?

— Stuck

Stuck: Maybe, but first be clear with your current therapist that you feel stuck. Be very specific with him — especially about what you see as his good suggestions. You’re trying but it’s not working, so is there some other way to approach them?

It could be that you do need a different therapist, but it could also be that you need ideas on how to act after a long period of fear and inaction — include some practical, step-by-step, how-tos for putting his good advice into action. Therapy brings change, and change is hard. A suggestion can seem good to you and still feel pointless or impossible the moment you leave the office. Tell him you need help with first steps, then see how it goes.