Regrets of Cancer: Learning to Let Go


Cancer can bring some tough decisions, but it is important to let go of regret.

Although many who have been through cancer face regrets afterward, it is only recently that studies and research have begun to look at these same traits in caregivers and family members. As I fall into both of those categories, I can certainly speak to the truth behind some of the statistics.

While everything is unfolding and it feels like you are going at warp speed, there is little time do anything, let alone stop to catch your breath and truly breathe. Day in and day out, many questions are asked of you. And all of them require an answer. Some are obvious, and thus easier to answer. Others are more complex and require time, but as those who’ve been through cancer know, cancer doesn’t wait for anything. And when there is so much happening, thinking is hard, let alone thinking clearly.

At bigger junctures during cancer, such as lingering between treatment options, you are required to stop. Not because you want to or even because you feel like you can. It is because cancer demands it of you. It was in these moments that I feel that my family and I struggled the most.

Doctors were consulted, opinions were given and so-called “options” were presented. Our dad provided advice and was always a sounding board. I discussed some pretty off-the-wall and, quite honestly, insane ideas with him. No matter what though, the final choice was always mine to make.

Initially, the choice was made by her oncologist. Her treatment was aggressive, but standard. It was cut and dry, and she received the same regimens as so many other Hodgkin lymphoma patients. It was only after her baseline treatment failed and she refracted that things got to be complicated. It was at that time she decided that she no longer understood her care well enough, and turned over her medical choices to me.

I remember sitting in her doctor’s office so clearly. She had been given a PET/CT scan and had learned that her ABVD treatment regimen hadn’t resulted in the success that we all hoped it would. I use the word “option” lightly, because when faced with failing cancer treatments, that word seems inadequate. Nonetheless, the options were set between two separate drugs. To this day, I do not off-hand recall the second one because after the choice of DHAP chemotherapy was made, the other drug didn’t matter anymore.

Sadly, while receiving her second dose she had a grand-mal seizure. As she lay in an unresponsive state, all of her choices were left up to me. Questions came faster than I could complete a single breath. My parents were out of state and even with my fiancé beside me, I couldn’t have felt any more alone than I did during that time.

While my sister recovered and went on to gain remission, those choice that I made continued to haunt me. The decision to utilize that medication was mine, and it possibly was a contributing factor for her need for a bone marrow transplant. In hindsight, I know that it turned out OK and that she is in remission. But that does not change the immense guilt that I continue to feel over that time in her cancer journey.

I have worked to better accept that the choices I made were done so with knowledge that I had during that time. I am certain that I am not alone in my feelings about the choices that I made for my sister during cancer. I think most of us who have gone through cancer can think about specific moments that we regret. I think one of the hardest things to do regarding cancer is to let go. I can’t go back and change what happened, I can simply move forward and let go of the emotions associated with some of the more difficult choices of cancer. I encourage others to try and do the same.

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