NOTE FROM KATHLEEN: I wrote this article two and one half years ago. The friend I wrote about chose integrative therapy and did wonderfully and is alive and healthy at age 75, as is my other friend, who chose surgery, chemo and radiation. Now another close friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer, so I’m re-posting this in response to thoughts and questions from her other friends.
One of my oldest and dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. My own feelings of fear and loss are profound, but they are nothing compared to hers.
As someone who has for so long advocated natural solutions to health problems, she turned to me for advice and support.
My immediate instinct was to “fix it.”
She is frightened and confused and was almost immediately overwhelmed by advice from a wide variety of well-meaning friends and family members who wanted to tell her exactly what to do and what not to do.
That gave me pause for a few minutes while I just listened to her.
She’s not my first loved one who has experienced a cancer diagnosis, and I am sure she will not be the last.
I cannot possibly know what she is going through, nor can I possibly tell her what she should do, regardless of how much I love her.
Yes, I am passionate about natural health and healing. But if I had a cancer diagnosis, I have no idea what I would do. I don’t think anyone would know what to do or think when faced with a potential death sentence.
Would I have a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation?
Intellectually, I can say I would not, but that would be emotionally dishonest. If I had the same diagnosis, I would most likely be willing to throw everything possible at the disease in the desperate hope that something would work.
Certainly I would n`ever condemn someone who makes that choice.
Many dear friends have chosen the conventional medical route and they are alive today. Are they alive because they did chemo and radiation? Maybe, maybe not. It is not for me to know. I am just grateful they are still here.
Nor will I give unsolicited advice to anyone about what treatments or natural approaches might be helpful. There are so many possibilities for effective natural approaches and there are so many charlatans out there just trying to make a buck. It’s nearly impossible to determine for yourself what is true and what is not.
I remember how horrified I was a few years back when a prospective client for my publishing business started out by saying he wanted to charge $50 for his 100-page book.
“How can you justify that?” I asked.
He replied: “People with cancer are so desperate, they’ll pay anything,”
Needless to say, I didn’t accept him as an author.
My friend did ask for advice and I happily told her what I think. I’m not sure how much information she can take in at this point when her mind is going 90 miles an hour, so I’ll repeat it when and if it is requested.
One of my strongest pieces of advice is that she has someone with her to take notes every time she visits the oncologist. I’ve witnessed these emotional meetings. There is a vast amount of medical information parceled out that may not be understandable to the average person, especially not one in an understandably emotional state after a cancer diagnosis. A companion with a cool head who is a good note taker will prove to be invaluable as decisions are made about what course to pursue.
My other piece of advice was that she is still in charge.
- She is not helpless in the face of conventional medical advice. It is advice, not law.
- Doctors are not gods
- She has an absolute right to bring in an integrative oncologist as a consultant in the case
- She has to power to fire her oncologist is he is not willing to work with her on this
As an aside, I still have very fond memories of the ritual we did nearly 15 years ago after my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. She deiced to go through chemo and after the second treatment, as expected, her hair started falling out in great gobs. She decided to take control over the cancer, so we created a ritual where her sister and I shaved her head. Then she proclaimed she was in control, not the cancer. My cousin is thankfully, still very much with us and has indeed taken control over cancer.
So, back to my friend and another friend who is engaged in the same battle right now, I say, I am here to give you love and support. I am here to answer the phone in the middle of the night when you are consumed with terror. I am here to hold your hand and hold your head when the nausea is temporarily in charge.
But most importantly, I am here to respect whatever decisions you make about the ways you want to treat your cancer and to support you without question.