Cancer takes away much from the person living with it. It forces our patients to change, to accommodate it and its therapies. Because of this, I have a deep respect for maintaining the ability of our patients to choose. In our mission to provide comfort and hope, we must accept the autonomy of patients and the informed choices our patients make, without judgment.
During the past year since my breast cancer diagnosis I have read a lot of articles about cancer and treatments. As a clinical trial coordinator I used to do that anyway, it’s just that this past year has made it more personal.
One on-line article, written by Dr Don Dizon and quoted above, really struck me and I shared it with my Facebook friends back in mid-2012. I’d like to share my thoughts on this with you.
Dr Dizon related the story of one of his patients who refused a recommended treatment because she was not willing to suffer the expected side effects that would mean giving up her beloved stiletto heeled shoes. At first he is shocked by her decision and then he accepted it and went on to offer her alternative treatments.
This message means a lot to me. Just because a treatment is available does not mean that you have to choose it. In fact, I did exactly this with one of my recommended treatments for my cancer. I was not comfortable with the potential long-term side effects of the recommended radiotherapy. Despite the assurances of the radiation oncologist that in her opinion the benefits outweighed the risks, that was not how I saw it. In fact, I “quit” radiotherapy (should never have started it…) and moved ahead with a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction as an alternative.
Both radiotherapy and the mastectomy option gave me the same outcome – lowered likelihood of breast cancer recurring in my breasts. It’s just that one of the options was much more acceptable to ME. I have no regrets!
On my on-line cancer support forums I sometimes see women popping in after a visit to their oncologist and asking for input from other forum members on whether they should follow their oncologist’s advice or not. More frequently though, what I see are messages from women who are following the recommendations and are really unhappy. They seem to have no concept that they could just say “NO”. They could just ask “What else have you got?”.
Our modern westernised medical system channels us into treatment for conditions and illnesses just as if we were chugging through a factory assembly line. We have become un-attached to the raw realities of life from birth to death. We have become accepting of this regimented approach to our own life.
Next time you go to a doctor and they offer you a treatment try asking “What else could I do?” or “What could I do instead?” or “Are there any alternatives?”.