Cancer Can Tear Families Apart

Phew!  It’s bad enough to have cancer rear its ugly head in a family, but what adds insult to injury is when that very situation tears a family apart.  How does this happen?  Well, the financial and emotional stress of a prolonged illness can be hard on a family, but what I’m talking about is the wreckage sometimes caused by cancer TREATMENT DECISIONS . . .  all because there are two separate worlds of treatment for cancer: conventional cancer treatments and alternative cancer treatments.

A scenario might go like this.  The oldest daughter is diagnosed with breast cancer that has spread into her lymph system with a suspicious looking spot in her and on her collarbone.  Her oncologist wants her to undergo surgery, followed by radiation and chemotherapy right away.  But, as a result of the homework she has done, she knows that there is virtually no chance that conventional treatment can cure her since her cancer has already metastasized.  So she decides to undergo minimal surgery but decline the chemo and use a combination of alternative methods instead for a chance at a long-term cure.  This woman’s husband is terrified that she’s making a mistake and wants her to do everything the doctor says.  Her parents are also frightened, but their fear comes out as anger towards her.  The doctors are the experts and they should know best, right?  She’s always gone against the grain her whole life and now she is going to kill herself!

The woman with the breast cancer knows there is no guarantee that the alternative approach she chooses will cure her, but she’s pretty darn sure that the full conventional approach won’t.  The parents, on the other hand, are suffering from what I call “The Disbelief Factor.”  This is when a person believes that if something other than surgery, chemo and radiation really worked against cancer, then all the doctors and clinics would be using it!   Of course, their concern is genuine.  They love their daughter and are terrified of losing her.  No one can blame them for this.  The Disbelief Factor is powerful, especially when someone has put full trust in doctors their whole life.  But it’s such a shame when this sort of rift occurs in a family because it can literally tear a family apart . . . sometimes for a long time.

Over the years, a number of people have asked me to try to convince a family member of theirs that some alternative approach they are looking into is better than going the conventional route.  Unfortunately, I can’t do that.  People have to convince themselves of which approach might be best, usually by reading books, searching for information on the Internet and talking to any experts they can find.

I do give one piece of advice, however, that can sometimes help if there is discord within a family about whether to use conventional or alternative medicine.  I recommend that the cancer patient and their conflicted family member sit down with the oncologist and ask point blank whether the conventional treatment being recommended is considered “palliative” or “curative.”  If the answer is palliative, then that means the oncologist knows the surgery, chemo, and/or radiation will NOT save the person’s life, but is merely recommended to prolong their life.  In that case, the person’s family may understand better why he or she wants to try something different that might give them a chance for full recovery.

More than anything, if this type of discord happens in your family, try to remember that the person arguing with you loves you and is probably very scared and worried for your life.  But it is still your body, and you still have to make your own decision about treatment.  Consider everyone’s feelings, but do what you think is best for you!

by Tanya Harter Pierce,  Author of OUTSMART YOUR CANCER