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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It’s My Cancer

  The following is a guest post I wrote for Breast Cancer Partner's Blog..... It’s My Cancer


“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 and post treatment by lessoning the side effects, improving quality of life and improving long-term survival. 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.

In good health,
Elyn Jacobs

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Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, and a breast cancer survivor and certified cancer coach.  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

6 comments:

  1. Great story; thanks for sharing. Though, based on Jobs' biography I wonder if toward the end of his life he regretted his decision.

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  2. Thank you. I agree, I think he did regret his decision, but then we all make choices and have to live the the results. I'd rather make a mistake and suffer for it then be forced to do something against my will and suffer. I have made many, but have no anger towards myself...not sure I would feel the same about others. Ever see the movie "A leap of Faith"?
    I also think his demise may not have been the result of delaying surgery, but rather may have been influenced by the immuno suppressors that were necessary for the transplant he chose. I am not convinced that the transplant was a good idea, but again,the choice was his to make. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Interesting perspective. I differ in that I hate making the wrong decision, even if it is something extremely minor.

    I had to look up "A Leap of Faith" because it sounded familiar, and yes I've seen it! Though, I remember none of it.

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  4. What I meant is if you feel forced into something you are not comfortable with and things don't work out, it is hard not to be angry or blame. for better or worse, we make decisions each and every day that will affect us in some way. with respect to cancer treatments, having confidence in one's chosen treatment plan is so very critical. In A Leap of Faith, the woman is told she has an inoperable lymphoma. determined she is to die, she reacts accordingly. however, the sudden death of a friend shakes her to gain control, and she decides to seek survival. she embraces alternative treatment, mostly of the mind-body-spirit and she is cured. however at first both her doctor and family are horrified. she basically disowns the family, explains that she needs to belive this will work and that they are no longer welcome in her life. they all eventually come around and she lives happily ever after...based on a true story. Anyway, treatment is not one-sized-fits all, so I support the choices of others. Have a wonderful evening and thanks again for the wonderful input.

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  5. I wish it could be just our decision and certainly listening to the advise of friends and relatives can kill you. Who will help you make that decision? Your oncologist who at least has dozens scientific studies to base her recomendations on or someone on the internet promising a cure with unproven methods.

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  6. An oncologist is a great place to start, but the use of conventional methods alone has not changed the fact that we are still dying from cancer, or actually, usually from the treatments. Sadly, conventional medicine has proven to cure only very few types of cancers. What we can do is become the most informed patient we can be and to listen to logic. I believe conventional medicine has its place, but integrative medicine and alternative methods should not be overlooked. Battling cancer requires a comprehensive strategy, and if we don’t change the environment in which cancer was permitted to grow, then long –term survival is compromised. The goal should be to develop an anti-cancer strategy that you can work with, and if that requires help, then by all means enlist a professional cancer coach.

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