Deciding to take treatments

“Should I take chemotherapy?” Lately I have heard this question asked by callers several times. Whether it is by an 80 year old gentleman with slow growing lung cancer, by a 52 year old lady with advanced ovarian cancer or a young lady with breast cancer. The answers, with numerous qualifications, is “yes” for three reasons.

But first, let’s discuss the qualifications. The treatments must be recommended by a qualified oncologist. If there is any doubt about the qualifications of this physician, get an independent second opinion. Check with PDQ at Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER) to be certain the recommended treatment is state-of-the-art therapy or a clinical protocol that is proving itself successful.

The first and foremost reason for always trying the chemotherapy when recommended by a physician is that you, the patient, are always the boss. You are not making a long term commitment. You are agreeing to try it – to take it for as long as you want – to quit whenever you want. You are the boss. You may be afraid of the side effects or have heard horror stories. These may not apply to this drug or they may not apply to you. Every patient is different. Your doctor must warn you about the possible side effects. Some people get sick from things that do not phase another. Tremendous strides have been made in the treatments. They are far more palatable than they were years ago. I have heard how bad certain drugs were and then others said they didn’t bother them at all. If the needle hurts you too much, you say stop it. If the first treatment makes you too sick, you don’t take another. If the first round leaves you feeling too bad, you don’t opt for a second. You are the boss.

The second reason is that you know you will lose if you don’t try. Cancer grows geometrically. It isn’t going to stay the same as it is today. The less tumor burden you have, the better the chance the chemotherapy can do its job. If you procrastinate, your chances of success dwindle. Cancer is a disease that does not allow the statement, “I wish I would have.” Go for it, try it. You can never be sorry.

Third, and this is something a lot of people including physicians do not realize, is that the quality of life is a lot better fighting to live than waiting to die. No matter how sick the drugs made me feel, I guarantee I felt a lot better than I did before taking them when I had no chance to live and was just waiting to die. I welcomed being made sick because I knew if those drugs were making this great big body of mine that sick and that weak, what they must be doing to those weak dumb little cancer cells. Even though I was horribly sick, the quality of my life was far better that those five days I waited with no hope. And here it is 20 years later and I’m playing tennis every day, traveling, being with my children and grandchildren. Life is great and it is worth fighting for.