Stopping Treatment Is Not Giving Up

I sometimes hear from individuals with advanced cancer who continue with aggressive treatment because their loved ones exhort them to “not give up.”

Some family members go so far as to say that stopping treatment is the same as committing suicide.

It’s not.

Bob Riter
Bob Riter

I wish that we could reframe this discussion because when people choose to stop active treatment, they’re generally doing so not to give up, but to gain control.

If you’re living with advanced cancer, chemotherapy isn’t likely to cure your cancer. The chemo is given to extend your life. That’s terrific as long as the quality of your life is relatively good.

But at some point, the benefits of chemotherapy become smaller.

Personally, I’d hate to spend the last few months of my life going through chemotherapy. Even if most side effects were well-controlled, there’s likely to be fatigue. I’d rather have four relatively good months without chemotherapy than six relatively difficult months with chemotherapy.

But I don’t presume to know what’s best for anyone else. What’s important is that I get to make this decision.

If your loved one is talking about stopping active treatment, it’s often a sign that they want to be in control, and I think that’s good.

Rather than changing the subject or pleading with them to “not give up,” why don’t you ask them what they’re thinking? Then listen and promise to support them.

When you do, you might find that they want to continue treatment. But they will know that it’s their decision to make.

Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Original publication date: October 15, 2016

Bob Riter is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. He can be reached at [email protected].


4 thoughts on “Stopping Treatment Is Not Giving Up

  1. My brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Feb 2016 and has had 1 chemo treatment in a second round of different drugs. Tumor markers have increased to 6000 his lab # are all over the charts. Now has swollen red foot and taking bactrim but developed 101 fever today. Is it time to stop chemo and try to avoid heroic efforts which may only make his time more difficult?

  2. Dear Celeste – I’m sorry that this is such a difficult time for your brother. As a loved one, you can help him by asking what he wants and encouraging him to have honest conversations with his doctor. There’s no right or wrong answer, but the important thing is to let the patient know that you support him in whatever decision he makes. My thoughts are with both of you.

  3. Personally I have been living with pancreatic cancer for six yes I said six years I had a whopper surgery and continue to do chemo treatments. I take breaks when I need them I am still terminal but I feel like I am resifining the word!

  4. I hate spellchecker it was supposed to be a whipple surgery which is definitely a whopper of a surgery! Best of luck to you and your brother not fighting is not an option for me I am driven to have control.

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