About Telling a Cancer Patient How to Feel and What to Do

In Breast Cancer, Creating Happiness, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

You, or someone you know, has just been given a cancer diagnosis and you find yourself in utter shock. You don’t know which way to turn with regard to your own emotions let alone how to interact with others in knowing what to say or what to do. As a patient, your thoughts immediately go to how did this happen, particularly if you have no family history for that cancer type and you start questioning what you did or didn’t do that caused you to get cancer. As someone close to another person who has been diagnosed with cancer, whether you have had cancer yourself or not, you find it very difficult to know exactly what to say and/or what to do. However, no patient should ever be told how they should feel or how they should be thinking or what they should be doing.

Each person has the right to decide what they wish to do with regard to their own life and if you truly love and care about that patient, you will respect the patients’ choices. Barbara Jacoby

Each cancer patient’s experience is as unique as their individual cancer and each cancer is as unique as a person’s fingerprints. This is the reason that a person’s actual cancer is tested in order to determine the best course of treatment. But, despite this information, it seems that some people find it acceptable to tell a cancer patient how they should feel and what they should do about anything and everything from deciding what should be their choices for treatment to how they should be feeling about just about anything associated with what the patient is facing and experiencing.

No one can ever know the personal experiences of a cancer patient, no matter whether you are or have been a patient yourself. From issues like the differences in pain tolerances in individuals to such a vast array of side effects to various medications and treatments, each person’s experience is different. Therefore, for another person to assess something like a pain level of someone else when we know that even a doctor is unable to do so is such a sad attack. To tell a patient that they should engage in the latest program or approach to their treatment without discussing it first with the patient’s medical team is beyond irresponsible. And even charging that if a patient had a better attitude or were a more positive thinker, they would not be in such pain or discomfort is so unfair. And taking it one step further, to accuse a patient of being responsible for their own cancer by challenging them on their lifestyle choices or lack of responsibility for not having been more proactive in their own health care is unforgivable.

And such disrespect of a cancer patient does not stop there. A person’s course of treatment should be set based upon the information that the patient’s medical team has gathered and after a doctor/patient discussion to arrive at a final decision. While a doctor will present a patient with various options for treatment along with medical recommendations from that doctor, it is ultimately the patient’s decision to make. No doctor can ever guarantee the outcome for a patient who undergoes any treatment and can only present the likelihood of how a particular course will have for the patient.

Whatever a patient decides needs to be respected by everyone in that patient’s life. Should a patient decide to forego, for example, a particular treatment like chemo, or to stop a treatment at any point, that choice should be allowed to be the patient’s choice alone. While we may on a very personal level want to have someone undergo anything and everything possible that might produce a positive outcome because we selfishly want them to be with us for as long as possible, it is not our decision. While I know a number of people who stopped treatment for any number of personal reasons, I also experienced my brother’s own fight to the end who died on the operating table of a heart attack during his 12th cancer-related surgery and I would never wish on anyone the pain with which he dealt during the last more than a year before his death.

It is my greatest hope that anyone dealing with either their own diagnosis or with someone who is making decisions regarding their own cancer treatment that the patient’s right to decide should reign. Each person has the right to decide what they wish to do with regard to their own life and if you truly love and care about that patient, you will respect the patients’ choices. Anything less is not acceptable and is fundamentally wrong on any level and perhaps one should stop and think how they would feel or react if someone were to tell them what they should do or assume that they have the right to make your choices.