November 7, 2009

two cents worth...

lately, we've seen a lot of discussion in the news about the toxicity of chemotherapy - no thanks to suzanne somers for setting off this trend, although she was far from the first person to attack this widely used (and accepted) cancer treatment. here are some of the headlines i found in a quick internet search.... "killer cancer treatment: how chemotherapy kills both cancer cells and cancer patients", "75% of doctors would refuse chemotherapy themselves" and "only 3% of cancer patients survive chemotherapy".

first of all, like cancer, chemotherapy is not one specific entity. i didn't actually understand this until i was diagnosed and discussed treatment...there's hundreds of different mixes of chemotherapy drugs. there are also hundreds of different types of cancer. add those things together, and you end up with thousands of different situations. so, to make any statement about chemotherapy in general has a good chance of missing the mark in lots of cases.

since i can only speak from experience with hodgkin's, i want to state clearly that i have a relatively rare cancer, and the use of chemotherapy in this case is very different than lots of other cancers. in the case of hodgkin's, which is a blood cancer, chemotherapy is the standard treatment. why? it's effective. over 90% of early stage hodgkin's patients can be cured with first line treatment...and something like over 75% of all stages can be cured. it's a fact that more than 3% of people who recieve chemotherapy for hodgkin's (and all lymphomas) survive treatment.

of course chemotherapy is toxic, and of course the side effects tear all of us down and destroy cells that we actually need, too...that's not really news. i won't ever say it doesn't suck. physically, it's the toughest thing i've ever done. however, i can't say i have any hesitation, because in the world we're in now, it's the best chance i have at beating this. i will always hope that one day we find a less toxic treatment for cancer...and everyone i know that's been through treatment hopes for the same thing. who wouldn't? no one would ever wish chemotherapy on anyone...but this is the world we live in now. forty years ago hodgkin's patients had high dose radiation to most of their body to give them the best chance of a cure. that was associated with more toxicity than the current treatment for the same disease...we've made progress. and we will continue to make progress, but we have to live in the here and now. to think that the medical world is inherently evil and not looking for an answer is ridiculous. if there's any doubt, look up how many clinical trials there are right now...they don't just do those for fun.

it's so frustrating to read so many people attack something they know nothing about. you can't possibly say how you'd make a decision unless you're forced to make it. and, i have a hard time believing any of these people are experts on every single treatment for every cancer. i know there are some cancers for which chemotherapy is less effective, but i wouldn't ever pass judgement on how any individual chooses to treat their cancer. in many cases it's a very difficult decision, and i can't imagine having to weigh the risks like that. i hope i never have to. my case was fairly clear cut, and really the only discussion was what type of chemotherapy, how long, and how strong of a dose.

the last thing...for those who say that doctor's are leading patients blindly into these treatments, i say that's their fault. i never, even for a second, thought that i had no responsibility to be educated, ask questions, advocate for myself and choose a doctor i trust. doctor's are human, not super-humans, and we should never expect that. i have an oncologist who i trust, respect and who i know would never offer me a treatment he wouldn't at least consider himself if he were in the same position. he also can't read my mind and answer all my questions or offer expert advice on something i want to know more about if i don't say something. his job is to answer all the questions i have, find information if he doesn't have it, and to offer treatments and advice. he can't make a decision for me. it's my choice to show up every two weeks for treatment, and it's my choice to continue under his care. if someone turns their own decision making ability over to their doctor and they don't like the end result, that's their fault, not the doctor's.

the moral of the story...there are lots of choices in cancer (and in life), and there is not just one answer. we all want to live, and the way in which we choose to do that doesn't deserve judgement.

1 comment:

  1. Great post here. I work in the integrative medical world where there are lots of alternatives to chemotherapy for cancer treatment being explored. And I thought I would never do chemo if I ever got cancer. But just like you said, you never know how you will react until it happens to you. It was a really tough choice for me to start chemo, but once that educated decision was made (high cure rate!) it was like, okay! let's go, and I started to think of it as medicine, not poison.

    And I applaud the continuing research that is going in on both the conventional and alternative fields, as I do hope that one day this will be thought of as barbaric, and future patients will have an easier time with it.