Decision Making with Cancer

Bob Riter
Bob Riter

Everyone diagnosed with cancer has decisions to make. What type of treatment? Where to have treatment? Should the cancer even be treated?

The question isn’t what’s best. Rather, the question is what’s best for you.

After working with people making these decisions for the past several years, I’ve found that some general guidelines can be helpful:

Don’t make your decisions before getting the facts. I routinely talk with individuals who have preconceived ideas about cancer treatment. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve heard say, “I will never do chemotherapy.” I always cringe when I hear that because it’s like saying, “I will never take medicine.” There are potential benefits and harms associated with all medicines – including chemotherapy.

I also cringe when people say that they want the most aggressive treatment possible. If given a choice between a small surgery and a big surgery, they will automatically choose the big surgery because it’s more aggressive. Again, that’s a preconceived notion. The most aggressive treatment isn’t always the best treatment.

Find out the facts that apply to your specific situation and then make your decisions based on those facts. When you make decisions before you get the facts, you’ll find yourself boxed into a corner, and that corner isn’t your friend.

Listen to your gut. Once you have the information you need to make a decision, listen to what your gut is telling you. I often ask people which decision lets them sleep better at night. That’s telling you something.

Don’t look back. Treatment decisions are always made with some degree of uncertainty and incomplete information. Decisions have to be made with the information you have at any given point in time. Once the decision is made, move forward and don’t keep asking yourself those “what if…” questions.

Have trust. At some point, you just need to relax and trust the health professionals involved in your care. They really are there to help you.

Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: June 14, 2014

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