Deciding on a cancer treatment plan could be the most important decision a survivor makes.
Our decisions to select a particular regimen for our health and healing after a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most difficult choices we're ever faced with. Killing cancer cells is a precision process with no guarantee of positive results, and the road to NED (no evidence of disease) is riddled with pot holes in the form of possible negative side effects. But the final outcome can certainly be positive.
It's the unknown nature of the procedures that make our choices a little scary and extremely important. These choices we make, either by ourselves or with the counsel from our oncologists and surgeons and, I'm sorry to say, the sometimes overly ambitious advice from our neighbor or the hairdresser we've been seeing for years, are highly personal. Yet it's surprising how many people we meet who have opinions and ideas about our cancer decisions, even those well-meaning folks who have never known cancer personally.
I recently had a cancer survivor who had undergone months of chemotherapy suggest to me that because I was diagnosed with stage1, grade 3 breast cancer without lymph node involvement that my disease was one of the "easy" ones, and that it would be a simple matter for me to skip any chemotherapy.
"After all,” hey remarked, "your surgery probably got it all and it is unlikely to come back.”
I understand how someone experiencing chemotherapy, hair loss, radiation treatment and various side effects might arrive at this conclusion upon meeting a stage 1 cancer patient. Certainly our prognosis is likely better, but we still have cancer. And of course, no one knows the outcome of any treatment before it's tried. We look at statistics for help.
But we are not a statistic.
My primary oncologist and my second opinion physician both recommended five years of tamoxifen and many weeks of Adriamycin therapy for me. Stage 1 is good news, but a cancer tumor with a grade 3 rating is an aggressive disease and more likely to reappear.
And men with breast cancer may have a significant increased risk of contracting prostate cancer. There are many questions that we might want to address before making these life and death decisions.
Doing nothing in terms of traditional treatments is always an option, though not a popular one.
Dr. Moshe Frenkel who works at the Department of Family Medicine, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Integrative Medicine Program and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, writes in a recent study:
"The number of patients that decline conventional cancer treatment is substantial enough to warrant close attention. Effective patient-doctor communication is crucial in addressing this challenge.
Patients are often aware of the serious side effects and complications that are likely to accompany conventional therapies and some have witnessed the ultimate futility of such interventions. They weigh the evidence and often make choices that reflect their underlying values and beliefs rather than rely on medical evidence or advice as the determining factor.”
Studies have reported rates of less than 1 percent for patients who refused all conventional treatment and 3-19 percent for patients who refused chemotherapy partially or completely.
In my experience, our biggest adversaries in choosing our treatments are the false claims, the unproven remedies, the fake news and the grand pronouncements of a cure of some sort.
There's no easy ride where cancer is concerned. And there are no easy choices. There are only OUR choices because ultimately these choices belong to us alone.
I would never propose to a colleague with cancer that they follow my plan. I only suggest that when you've devised your own plan, make certain that you believe in it wholeheartedly and without reservation. And then your decision about your cancer battle or dance or journey or however you choose to see it, will be yours. And if you believe that you can be healed our even cured, you'll know without question that, at least at this stage in your recovery, you've made a good choice.