Cancer treatment decisions

One of the toughest decisions that people with cancer have to face is whether or not to take drug or other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. The amount of information and misinformation takes a lot of work to sort through and be able to make a conscious decision. It’s a daunting task for even the most seasoned researchers, and unfortunately many people get lost in the shuffle due to overwhelm and confusion.

People with cancer and their loved ones can research the internet, read books, and hear stories from others which may be helpful or not. Some people have good advice from doctors and they’re comfortable with what they hear so it’s easier to proceed. I’ve heard a number of people say they are not comfortable with their doctor’s recommendations, and would like to do things differently, but they’re afraid to make the wrong decision when their life is in the balance.

When coping with cancer in 1987, I took advantage of everything I was offered except one treatment that my gut instinct told me to refuse. Fortunately for me, when I asked my doctors, they told me the results would give me a 50/50 chance of improving my outcome so it wasn’t too big a risk. It can be much more difficult decision when people are given higher percentages on the benefits of a certain treatment.

There are always personal factors which enter in to the decisions people face with cancer treatment. I remember the fear I had when making decisions in case I chose something which would create side effects I couldn’t live with, or chose not to take something which was supposed to make me well. I didn’t want to do anything which would increase my risk of recurrence.

I will always be grateful to my health care team for guiding me and supporting me to make my own decisions. I believe that whatever treatment we take has to feel right for us as an individual.

For example, it’s common to feel some fear and concern when starting a course of chemotherapy. The important thing is to take a look at the risks and benefits and to work with your head and your heart to get to the point where you’re reasonably sure you’re making the right decision for you. This way you will get maximum benefit from the treatment.

If something is screaming at you to take another direction, then you need to pay attention and explore other options until you find something you can tolerate. The mind body connection will guide you to the right place if you allow it to take place.

My health care team encouraged me to use visualization and guided imagery to engage the mind-body connection; this helped me to make decisions, promote healing, and get my thoughts working for me rather than against me. These new ideas added to the steep learning curve of living with cancer; however, I’m convinced my recovery was a combination of Western medicine and complementary therapies which is now referred to as integrated medicine.

It’s not an easy task to overcome cancer. It takes energy and effort to pull in all the tools and skills we can gather so the decisions we make will help us on the road to recovery. People can tell us what they think, but we are our own best experts and the decisions we make are ours alone.

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