Imagine, if you will, a room full of women diagnosed with breast cancer and currently either undergoing active treatment or having just completed treatment. The women are sitting in folding metal chairs arranged in a circle, group therapy style. A facilitator presents a question: “If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you repeat your cancer treatment regimen?” The room would instantly be abuzz with discussion. Some women would realize similarities in their circumstances and others would find vast differences. But the majority of those in the room would probably feel confused and wonder if they’d been given a right to choose or if they’d merely followed doctors’ orders regarding their cancer care.
When a person receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, an oncologist devises an individualized treatment plan based on many factors. Many doctors offer a conventional plan – surgery, chemo, radiation and hormonal replacement. Very few offer alternatives. The goal is to provide the patient with the best possible outcome. Both doctor and patient hope for survival.
But do patients realize the choice to follow or disregard the plan is in their hands? Some will blindly follow the suggested plan, trusting the medical expertise of the doctor consulted. Others will be bold enough to question or even make suggestions for possible changes to the plan. And very few will choose to forego the plan.
Whatever the case may be, each person must weigh options presented and decide how to “do cancer.”
But there are some who don’t realize their opinions matter. They don’t grasp the concept, “This is my body and I have a right to choose what happens to it.” Those people could be considered too trusting, afraid to buck the system.
A newly diagnosed person might feel intimidated and fearful in questioning a treatment plan, but a caring medical professional would encourage the patient to not only ask questions but also provide input, especially when the decisions affect life in such a profound way.
One might ask, aren’t we being rebellious if we choose to do cancer another way? Should we presume to know more than a medical professional? Of course, the answer to both questions is no, but patients do have a say and should have the freedom to speak up.
Five years ago, I found myself confronted with a plethora of choices regarding treatment for stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. After being presented with a treatment care plan, I assumed it was the best option for prolonging my life. I trusted my doctor and felt he had my best interests at heart. But as I began to weigh each option, I felt some elements of the prescribed regimen were not viable in my case.
Those feelings were based on fact. I’d done a lot of research and had found data in recent medical journals that contradicted what I’d been told by the oncologist. Based on the information I’d discovered, it only made sense to refuse certain parts of the treatment plan. After discussing the choices with my husband, I discussed them with the doctor. He was not pleased with my input and refused to budge on his recommendation for my care. I was disappointed by his reaction. After much prayer and consideration, we parted ways. I basically fired my oncologist.
Believe me when I say it was a scary thing to be without an oncologist when you have cancer – but I knew we were not a good fit when he failed to support my choices. Within a week or so, I found a medical team that offered integrative therapy. They were willing to hear me out and they supported my choices. Being given the freedom to decide what was best for my body made me feel I was in control. I was thankful the new medical team wanted to address issues with not only my body, but also my mind and spirit. When I mentioned adopting alternative therapies, they agreed we could try each one. I was closely monitored as I incorporated herbal supplements, changes in diet, ayurvedic medicine and other non-traditional treatments into my daily routine.
Doing cancer my way has allowed me the freedom to partner with my doctor in making wise choices that benefit my health.
While I don’t advocate going against medical advice, I am a proponent of a patient’s right to choose. Every cancer case is different and there may be extenuating circumstances that dictate the type of care a patient receives. But every person deserves the right say “yay” or “nay” to those treatment options.
To date, I continue my alternative treatment regimen and am currently cancer-free. If I had it to do over again, I’d make the same choices. Normally, I’m not one to question a doctor’s advice, especially given the fact that most physicians have many, many years of training; but every doctor isn’t an expert in every field. The questions patients ask are valid and deserve intelligent answers. Any doctor worth his salt should be willing to listen.
Many alternative treatment options are available. Some of them have proven results and others do not. All treatments for cancer – whether conventional or alternative – can cause unwanted side effects, but that’s a risk we take. After all, medicine is a science and as of today, there still is no cure for cancer.