real life

The life or death choice I hope you never have to make

As a cancer support professional – and as a cancer survivor – I won’t tell you or advise you on the best way to treat or cure cancer.

People want me to. People want me to – sometimes really badly – I think just so they can argue with me about it. This weekend, someone approached me at a Wellness Fair and asked me what treatment options I espouse and recommend. I told him it’s not my area – I do not endorse or recommend any particular treatment over another one, or try to advise or guide people towards or away from any one treatment option. I support people in whatever option they choose based on the information, values and beliefs they have.

He said he didn’t believe in chemotherapy. He told me only 5% of people who have chemotherapy survive 5 years past that treatment.

I told him that makes me about 2.15 x dead then.

He told me it must’ve been because I changed my diet. I told him I didn’t change my diet. He then stated it must’ve been because I did a “detox” after the chemo. I said I didn’t do a detox, or anything else to de my tox for that matter. And yet, here I am, 10 years later. He became quite angry. Clearly I was challenging his beliefs about chemotherapy, but not through anything I said. He was angry because I had the audacity to be sitting here talking to him 10 years after chemotherapy when in his mind I should be dead.

You’d have thought he would have been pleased I didn’t die within five years of my chemo, but he was not happy about it. You’d’ve thought he’d also be happy to know most of the people I knew who’d had chemo were still alive and kicking too more than five years later. But it was clear he was not very happy about this at all.

And I wondered what it was he valued most – the idea he had in his head of how people should be cured of cancer, or the fact people are being cured of cancer all the time, by different methods, with some of those methods being ones he doesn’t believe in, and how great it is those people are alive today?

I often have coffee with people who would like me to give out their brochures or promote their products and services to my clients, and write or speak about their particular treatment or service. I am happy to refer my clients to which ever practitioner I feel they’re best suited to, but I refuse to enter into any dialogue which condemns a particular treatment option as categorically wrong, or bad.

And I never, ever enter into discussions with people who say about a particular cancer treatment “_____ never works.”

They all work. And they all don’t work too.

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So I’m not going to tell you the “best way” to treat or cure cancer. I’m not going to tell you because it doesn’t matter.

That’s right – it doesn’t matter.

Let’s face it – when it comes to cancer and treatment, we all only get one of two possible outcomes. We either live, or we die. That’s it. You can’t get a result other than these two regardless of which treatment you choose.

As someone who had cancer and treatment, and writes and talks about cancer a lot, when I’m asked what cancer treatment I think is best, I say whatever the hell works. Because I don’t think cancer treatment is a moral choice, an ethical choice or a matter of conscience. I think it’s a matter of life and death. Of living and dying. Of surviving and not surviving. We all want to survive cancer. Everyone wants the best cancer treatment. But what constitutes best is different for everyone. I think the best cancer treatment is the one most likely to get rid of cancer and not kill you in the process.

I also don’t believe the conspiracy theories. Nobody is trying to stop people from being cured of cancer because it’s more profitable to keep them malignant for as long as possible. NOBODY IS DOING THAT, PEOPLE. That is a very sad, twisted way to look at the world – the conspiracy theory way of looking at the world, I mean. I’m not sure I’d want somebody with that particular worldview anywhere near me when I’m vulnerable and sick.

Nobody is making more money than anyone else out of treating people for cancer. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are not giving away their products, but natural health practitioners are not giving away their products either.

They are selling them. For money. To pay their bills with. Just like you.

On diagnosis of cancer, some are offered surgery, chemotherapy, and perhaps radiotherapy as treatment options. Some elect for an organic diet. Some prefer prayer, meditation or mindfulness. Some travel overseas to go to specialised clinics. Some do nothing and just wait and see what happens. Many try a combination of these.

Everyone is obliged to choose the treatment they believe they can live with most comfortably, both in terms of effects and consequences. If an individual believes the decision about cancer treatment is an ethical or conscientious dilemma, it’s certainly their prerogative.

Cancer, however, has no such qualms. It will keep right on doing what it does without considering the morality or ethics involved in either its existence, or the methods being considered for it’s eradication, until something makes it stop.

Lots of things make cancer stop. These include better quality foods and environments, chemotherapy drugs, faith and prayer, affirmations and cutting it out with a very sharp knife. They all work.

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So when it’s claimed a certain treatment is better than another one, I wonder what they’re getting at?

What do people mean when they say a treatment is good and another is badIf you can only ever get two possible outcomes from any treatment, how exactly do you improve on that?

My advice to people is:

Consider carefully all the information you’ve been given about your diagnosis including the stage of the cancer, type of cancer you have, and the rate the cancer is progressing now and will progress untreated

Research how the cancer you have typically responds to different treatments

Be as objective morally and ethically as possible – the cancer doesn’t share your environmental, religious or moral views on treatment

Explore all the options in terms of the effects and impacts on your family (some treatments are extremely demanding on the others around you), your time and finances, and other resources you have available

Do not use Google as a reliable source of information

Speak personally to someone who has experienced the treatment option you are considering

Cancer treatment is a very important and personal choice. Some like to make it an emotive and political decision as well, but cancer has no politics, and often the thoughts and feelings we project onto it are more a reflection of our own values and ideas. I would suggest any cancer treatment will work better once you’ve made up your own mind about it, whatever that choice may be. Make your decision, then throw your whole heart, mind and soul behind that choice. Defend it, nurture it and resource it. Don’t allow it to be undermined or criticised by others, in fact, be careful of accepting advice from anyone who will not be around to help you deal with the consequences of any choice they are pressuring you to make. This is your body, and you only get two possible outcomes. Informed choices based on accurate information and good quality support will enhance the best possible outcome, regardless of your treatment decision.

Jo Hilder is an author, speaker, cancer coach and cancer survivor living in Newcastle, NSW. She is mum to four kids and the author of two books including Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer, available in print and e-book both from Amazon and from her website at johilder.com

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