If you’re diagnosed with cancer, one of the hardest challenges – along with so many others – is to take charge of your own care and make your own decisions about your treatment.
Many doctors – I might say most – simply think they should give the orders and you the patient should follow them. You’re supposed to be a “compliant patient.” Oncologists are reputed to be among the worst when it comes to being domineering and refusing to tolerate any backtalk from strong-minded patients.
Over the years I’ve heard some horrific stories from cancer patients who were bullied by their doctors. And it almost goes without saying that a conventional oncologist doesn’t want to hear a thing about alternative treatments, or even taking a vitamin or two.
If you want alternative cancer treatments you’ll have to seek an alternative or integrative cancer doctor.
The traditional cancer care business
Unless you’re seeing an integrative oncologist or alternative doctor, you can be certain that your doctor will prescribe chemotherapy, surgery, radiation or some other pharmaceutical drug treatment for your cancer. The alternatives? They don’t exist in conventional oncology.
Scary? Yes, it is. Conventional oncology training doesn’t teach how to look at cancer from a wholistic point of view— as a disease of the whole body— instead of just looking at the body part where cancer is growing.
Doctors in conventional oncology are also susceptible to misinformation from Big Pharma about the safety and efficacy of cancer treatments. And these doctors work in a system largely geared to making as much money as possible.
If I had any lingering doubts about this before, the handling of the pandemic crisis has put them to rest. The medical system rose up with all its power to kill off safe, inexpensive treatments. I can’t prove it, but I can only assume this was to pave the path for super-expensive new drugs and vaccines.
But here’s the good news. Over the last 15 years word started getting out that there are alternatives to traditional cancer treatment. What’s more, in many cases these alternative cancer treatments are working more safely and with far greater success than traditional cancer treatments. As a result, a trend has been taking place over the last ten years that shows patients are more willing to question the medical “gospel,” so to speak.
This kind of conversation is the goal
That access to information has led to more empowerment at the patient level, and that’s a good place to be. If you’re empowered as a patient, you understand that you shoulder the most responsibility for your own health. You make the decisions, and doctors are advisers and resources as opposed to authority figures who shouldn’t be questioned. You become your own health advocate, and your doctor assists in that goal.
Also relevant is the fact that good communication is vital if you want good health care. Research shows that people who take an active role in their care tend to have greater satisfaction in their progress and treatment. Similarly, passive patients are less likely to get well.
Elevate yourself to partner status
Here are some helpful tips to being your own medical advocate, or advocate for a loved one facing cancer:
- Find a doctor who encourages you to learn all you can about your own health and conditions. Knowledge is power, as they say. As hard as it is to shop around for doctors, especially if the one you’ve got is being aggressive about pushing you into surgery, radiation, or chemo, you have to make up your mind to find the caregiver and treatment protocol that’s right for you. Cancer generally does not grow that fast. You almost ALWAYS can take a week or two to stop, look around, and think. There are some exceptions – I would have a melanoma removed immediately, for example, then look for follow-up alternatives to get rid of any cancer cells that survived the surgery. But in the typical case, you’ve got time.
- Understand from the beginning your doctor’s position on alternative cancer therapies. Are they open to these treatments? If so, and you’re combining care, such as consulting an alternative or naturopathic physician along with an oncologist, they each need to be aware of what the other is advising.
- Ask a lot of questions. Don’t hold back. Ask your doctor to explain what different terms mean, to elaborate on what to expect with different treatments, and to make clear why they’re recommending one treatment over another. If you don’t get a clear answer, keep asking questions until you do.
- Write things down. If you’re visiting a doctor in a conventional medical setting, it’s likely they’ll be under a lot of time pressure. Come in prepared with a list of the issues bothering you so you can blast through it at the beginning of the visit instead of relying on memory or not bringing something up until right before you walk out the door.
- Address the financial issues. Continued medical care adds up over a long period of time, and that’s if you do have health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, the situation can be dire. Yet patients don’t often bring up money with their doctors because they worry it’ll translate to substandard care. In reality, physicians often have options available to help patients worried by out-of-pocket costs, such as knowledge of financial assistance programs or resources to help you with bill payment. Sometimes doctors can discount their fees or offer prescription drug samples. Not always, of course, but you won’t know unless you ask.
- It’s essential to find someone to be your cancer advocate and go with you to every doctor visit and procedure. Their purpose is to help you articulate your questions and remember what’s said. You may also be too emotional and upset to deal with the situation, so it’s urgent to have the help of a cooler head. And it’s just plain easier to be assertive if you have a little help.
Time is usually on your side
Finally, in my many years of listening to alternative cancer doctors, traditional oncologists and cancer survivors, I’ve found a common thread: many patients feel pushed by traditional oncologists to “act now.”
So I want to repeat what I mentioned before: You almost always have time to think things over and consider all your options. The doctors will suggest that the patient’s life depends on beginning a traditional treatment plan right away, when the reality is that in most cases your life depends on waiting, researching, getting other opinions and weighing your treatment options.
True, sometimes you really do need to move right away. But almost never is it a matter of mere days. This means, at the minimum, that when your doctor starts talking treatments and appointments, you can say, “Thank you, I’ll think that over and let you know my decision in a couple of days.”
Then, the first thing you need to learn is how urgent your case actually is. Are you legitimately a “rush job” or do you have weeks, months or (in some cases) even years to sort things out? Early stage cancers are almost never rush jobs. And for what it’s worth, in advanced late-stage cancers surgery and chemo are usually worthless and you want to go straight to alternatives.
Consider turning to alternative treatments first
It’s an acknowledged fact among alternative cancer doctors that most cancer patients turn to alternatives only after they’ve tried just about every conventional cancer treatment under the sun, and they’ve all failed. By that time the “cut-burn-poison” treatments of mainstream medicine have damaged the body so much, little can be done.
The alternative therapies won’t deplete your immune system and load your body up with dangerous chemical toxins, so you’ll actually have a better shot at beating your cancer in the first go around. On the other hand, conventional cancer treatments will brutalize your immune system and fill your body with toxic chemicals, making it harder for your body to overcome the disease.
But. . .these decisions are complicated and they differ for each and every individual. In a better world, there would be a zillion integrative oncologists around to help you sort out the best choices among both conventional and alternative treatments.
In the real world, the one we live in, most of us have to sort it out for ourselves. We have to do our research. That’s why this publication exists. Then, we have to take a deep breath and make our choices – knowing they may not work, but they’re the best we can do.
- “Be Your Own Health Advocate.” By Martin Downs for WebMD, retrieved 8 November 2020. https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/be-your-own-health-advocate#1
- “The Changing Nature of Authority: Doctors.” By Marc Meola for ACRLog, 25 May 2007. https://acrlog.org/2007/05/25/the-changing-nature-of-authority-doctors/
- “What’s Wrong with Doctors.” By Richard Horton, The New York Review, 2007 May 31.
- “Patients take charge: How physician-patient relationships are changing.” By Jeffrey Bendix, April 3, 2019, Medical Economics, Volume 96, Issue 7. https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/patients-take-charge-how-physician-patient-relationships-are-changing