“You have cancer” Three of the most dreaded words you can hear from your doctor. Your world has changed and you feel a loss of control. A moment ago you were a student, parent, wife, maybe even a doctor. Now, suddenly, you are a patient. In the ensuing panic, disbelief, fear, and confusion you have to make decisions. Likely right now you think “I can barely breathe, let alone function…how am I to figure all this out?” Well, unfortunately, your life and your quality of life depend on it. Now is the time to get help, but from who?
A cancer diagnosis leaves one so very vulnerable, not only to the illness, but also to the people all around us. Given all the options today, we have many decisions to make. We may choose conventional, alternative or a combination of both, and within each modality, there are yet more options. Friends often think they are helpful when criticizing a chosen treatment plan. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer choose not even to discuss with friends their choice for surgery, as surely some friends will be adamant about mastectomy and others lumpectomy, and this is terribly unfair. I always say that when a friend or loved one is diagnosed, support is essential, information is helpful, but advice is unacceptable. It is for us and us alone to choose and be confident with a path chosen, and it is unfair of others to cast doubt or offer opinions. Doubt will bring fear and stress, both of which can be detrimental to healing and survivorship and can compromise all efforts for a positive outcome.
The recent press regarding Steve Jobs is a perfect example. One might say that Steve Jobs was a bright man. One might say he made many critical decisions in his life. One might say that he was not afraid to take chances. One might even say that he was a trendsetter. Why is it that friends, family and the media felt they had the right to challenge his choice of a treatment plan and have the right to second guess it now? To say that “he refused potentially life-saving cancer surgery for nine months, shrugging off protests from his family and opting instead for alternative medicine” is unfair. Potentially life-saving surgery? Some doctors have argued that his cancer was curable, others say the opposite. Given a diagnosis of a cancer for which conventional medicine has not been particularly successful, it would only make sense to explore all options. This was his cancer and it was his decision to choose a plan of treatment. Andrew Grove told Jobs he was crazy. Art Levinson was frustrated that he could not persuade Jobs to have surgery. It wasn’t their cancer. What matters is that Steve Jobs had confidence in his choice. What matters is that Mr. Jobs made the final decision on each new treatment regimen. What matters is that he had the freedom to choose and to change his mind. What is not acceptable is for others to challenge his decisions. What is important is to have an unbiased advocate to assist and support you through treatment. We will never know if it was the destructive mind-body criticism of others that brought on his demise. We do know that Steve Jobs made sure he sought out all the options and did all he could do to battle his cancer. Knowing your options and obtaining the necessary information is critical in order to make the right choices for you, for your cancer.
There are many options for treating cancer. Conventional (allopathic) medicine offers surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other medical interventions to battle cancer. For many, this is the route to take. For others, surgery may be acceptable, but radiation and or chemotherapy either are not an option or are not acceptable to the patient. Some will take the integrative approach, combing conventional with alternative therapies. Massage, acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, nutritional therapy and other treatments associated with complementary medicine can support patients during their journey. Still others will choose to use only alternative methods. The important thing is to choose what feels best to you. Keep in mind that within these methods, there will be further decisions to make, for example which of the surgeries available would be best or which alternative treatment would be the most effective. Doctors differ in their methods and protocols. Many women find it a challenge to find a doctor who can hear and respond to her opinions and questions, and all too often women are pushed into a path for treatment that does not suit her core needs or desires. Sadly, some doctors forget that we endure treatment to live, and therefore quality of life is important.
Information is power and it has never been more important to be informed and knowledgeable about your medical care. My goal is to get this information to women and to empower and support them to make choices that fit their own individual needs. As a survivor and experienced coach, I understand the questions and concerns faced by the newly diagnosed, and I make sure that my client’s voice is heard. My mission is to help women find the right treatment, doctors and post cancer care, even if that means second or even third opinions and firing a few doctors. I know firsthand, that under these circumstances, it is very difficult to concentrate on all that a doctor is saying, so I accompany women on visits to the doctor where I take notes and ensure the tough questions get asked. Once team and treatment plans are chosen, we work together through the process. I feel strongly that no woman should have to face cancer alone.
This post was originally written for Rhona Smith's Breast Cancer Partner. http://www.breastcancerpartner.com/
In good health,
Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Executive Director of the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation and a breast cancer survivor. She helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers. She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life. To learn more about Elyn’s coaching services, please visit: http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com