Opinion Noise in Treatment Decisions

January 26, 2018
Dana Stewart
Dana Stewart

Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.

Don't let the noise of other people's opinions distract you from making the right cancer treatment decision.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, it no doubt feels like the world is crashing down on you. Everything you knew in your life is gone and a new path lays before you. Whether you like it or not and whether you want to or not, you walk down it. Along that path lies a million questions, and basically no guidance to any answers. You have to go with what is right for you, following, of course, the best laid plan by your medical team.

With all that being said, there are specific treatment decisions that have to be made.

These are decisions you never dreamed you would have to make and none of them come attached with any fun. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, I had to make decisions that no 32-year-old woman should have to make. It was like a fire storm of questions thrown at me by a multitude of doctors, two days after I heard the words "you have cancer." They asked if I wanted to remove both breasts, remove one breast, do a lumpectomy, what kind of reconstruction did I want, chemo, radiation, maybe a hysterectomy and on and on. I was confused by the first question of whether to keep my breasts and basically tuned out after that. I was so mad that I even had to make that decisions in the first place.

Once you hear all the treatment questions with decisions looming not far behind, then comes the opinions. I tend to think of them as noisy opinions that can potentially get in the way. Your friends, family, doctors, therapists and other people all have opinions. Hopefully you have gone to them to hear their thoughts. If you are in the very beginning stages of cancer-related decision making, I suggest going to others to hear their thoughts. These decisions that have to be made, regardless of what type of cancer you have, are very overwhelming and not something that can be made within a minute or two. However, don't let the noise of the opinions overwhelm you or coarse you to pick a treatment option that doesn't seem right for you.

My only personal experience in cancer is with breast cancer, as I mentioned. So, I can only explain the noise of opinions related to breast cancer surgeries. Once I was diagnosed, I had a pretty strong sense of what I wanted to do. The doctors gave me the green light to choose between single or bilateral mastectomy or go down the road of a lumpectomy. After that, depending on which option I chose, I would potentially have to pick a reconstruction route but only if I wanted reconstruction. See what I mean? It's like a treatment choose your own adventure. As I started to get the opinions of family, friends along with other survivors, I quickly became overwhelmed. I heard the "oh don't do that surgery" or "I would never..." or "you MUST choose this option." It's a lot of noise. It can affect your decision.

So, I want to give fair warning for the noise, again, not because I think it is a bad idea to ask around for opinions. Quite the opposite. All I can say is before you ask around, start by asking yourself. What option seems to resonate with you at that very moment? Something popped in your head when you were hearing the treatment options. Something stuck with you a tad bit longer than any other options. Sit with it for a minute and let it sink in. Maybe even give it a day or two if time allows. Do this first before opening to the opinion noise. It will help to make sure you that you are the one making the best treatment decisions for you and not the noise.

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