A few days ago my dad had his six month checkup at the cancer center. Have I mentioned how much I despise these appointments? I believe I have. Cancer sucks. It sucks even worse when, in order to support your loved one and comply with their wishes, you’re forced to deal with a system that you (philosophically and scientifically) disagree with at your very core.
The “patient” in this case does not completely disagree, however. Therefore, this is what we do.
This most recent appointment was with the chemotherapy oncology doc. This is the guy, who in the past, has repeatedly told my dad that he’s not sick enough and not in enough pain to proceed with chemotherapy. He has told me multiple times that that’s his “measuring stick” – that’s what will determine whether or not he would recommend chemo.
He seems nice enough, as human beings go. Not a bigfatjerk like others we’ve dealt with in the past. However, I think the paradigm from which chemo dude views cancer, and anything health related really, is seriously flawed. Collectively, he and his conventional oncology cronies have their heads deeply embedded a very dark, unsanitary place.
To cut, burn, and poison fellow human beings should not be our exclusive focus in the “treatment of cancer”… and it should never, ever be presented as peoples’ only choice. That may very well be the worst part of cancer. The limited choices that are presented and the fear tactics employed when presenting those choices. These may be “nice” oncology dudes and dudettes, but the paradigm from which they act is just so frighteningly limited.
Perhaps I digress.
Anyhow, the conversation with chemo doc continued along the same lines as it has in previous visits… “Are you in pain? Are you feeling sick? Can you get around OK?” The benchmarks for chemotherapy, in this doc’s words.
Since Dad answered, “Not too bad”… “No”… and, “Fairly well”, he did not win the chemo prize pack this time. Try again later.
Chemo dude gave Dad the results of his most recent bone scan… not good. The cancer has spread more throughout the bones. How much? I don’t actually know because I asked twice, yet chemo dude was seriously evasive about it. Weird.
So I kicked him in the kneecap ‘til he told me.
(No, that was just in my rich imagination.)
I left it alone so as not to upset my dad sitting right next to me. I figured, if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones. They haven’t been able to do anything about that up until this point, so in this particular setting, it doesn’t really matter. The solution has never been within the confines of this particular system.
After this strange report of findings, chemo dude once again questioned Dad’s level of pain, feelings of ‘sickness’, and ability to carry on with his daily activities, stating again that each of these would be enough reason to recommend chemo.
Why would we wait until someone’s really sick to give him chemo? Because if it’s just so we can all say in hindsight someday, “He did everything he could”, that’s just ignorant.
Just to make certain that I was thoroughly confused by the chemo dude’s rationale, and the “commonly accepted system for recommending treatment”, as he described it, he then went on to explain that he would not like to recommend chemo to dad anyway because he feels that “dad is too old, too frail and would not *do well* with chemotherapy.”
Hold onto your seats… chemo dude then said these words to me…
“Besides, chemotherapy is not curative… it doesn’t cure cancer. At best, it may give you another couple months. But then, I need to weigh that against how much quality of life would be lost during those months.”
I’m not “twisted”… but I thought that was really great that chemo dude said these words. If more people with cancer heard “chemo is not curative”, I think they’d be looking more outside the box for different (less dangerous) treatment options… I’d hope.
Chill. I know there can be a time, place, and individual situations where chemo can benefit the overall picture for someone with cancer. On its own, it’s savage. Accompanied by measures to restore and recover healthy function, it can serve an important role in the long run.
OK, so…so far, we have the following confusing and contradictory thread of events happening in this visit:
- The questions about pain, sickness, and daily activities… all leading chemo dude to decide whether or not to recommend chemo.
- The strange, evasive bone scan report.
- Chemo dude then saying he wouldn’t recommend chemo… probably… because it wouldn’t really do anything except make dad gravely ill. (Umm, do you remember what you said in #1?)
Honestly, I couldn’t be more confused when I sit through these consultations. I spend a great deal of time searching the rooms for hidden cameras… because this must be a joke someone is playing on me… just to see how much I can take before I’ll lunge at the nearest oncologist and shake them until something resembling common sense comes out!
Oh, silly me and my vivid imagination.
4. OK, now get this… it’s gets even more strange…
Chemo dude, showing his very nice, compassionate side, decided to take a couple minutes to explain how “tied his hands are” when it comes to prescribing chemotherapy. He explained the (Ontario) government’s role in the treatment recommendation process. He said that the government will pay for chemotherapy treatment only if it’s one of the chemo drugs classified as the most harsh. You have to start at the top.
Then, “if the cancer comes back” (or, if you survive the treatment), the government will then approve payment for “milder forms of chemotherapy” (sounds like an oxymoron to me).
So, the only way someone can do chemo (without sending their family into a financial pit of despair) is to do the most harsh, most intense protocol of treatment. Guess they think if you’re tough enough to live through that, they’ll financially reward you.
At this point, I was even more thankful that chemo dude wasn’t pressuring dad to do chemo… knowing it would probably be his certain demise.
In chemo dude’s words, “He’s not healthy enough to withstand chemo.”
What “healthy” people are lining up for their shot at chemo??
Dude. C’mon. You maketh no sense.
Just to make certain I had good material to write about from my room with the padded walls, he threw this in near the end of our appointment…
“So, we’ll make your next appointment in 6-8 months. We’ll see how you’re doing then. If you have pain or feel sick, we can recommend chemo then, if we need to.”
I hit my head on the floor as I fell out off the chair.
Apparently, dad will not be too old for chemo in 6-8 months!
Math is clearly not a requirement in the undergraduate schedule.
I had to call him on that one. The muck was simply getting far too deep for me to stand in at that point! Chemo dude explained that “maybe the government will change its rules by then and I could recommend a milder chemo.”
Ohhhh, OK. Wouldn’t that just be peachy.
I couldn’t resist testing the waters… I had to ask, “So, is there anything Dad should DO in those 6-8 months…?”
“No, just carry on with what you’ve been doing and we’ll see how you’re doing in 6-8 months.”
Now there’s a winning plan for health recovery!
(And this is scientific? They ridicule “alternative” and “holistic” approaches?! Oh, my.)
The points chemo dude won for admitting that chemo isn’t curative were almost completely lost on this dough-brained advice.
So, the cancer is getting worse.
Dad was essentially told, “There’s nothing more we can do at this point.” Not much of a surprise, really. Ever since the metastasis to his bones was diagnosed a few years ago, it has been clear that all treatment via oncology would strictly be palliative in nature. I think the way radiation and chemo have been dangled in front of dad like tempting carrots have confused him into thinking they might offer “hope for a cure”.
Yet, Dad has done relatively well with it. He’s still HERE, after all. Cancer IS a chronic illness… you CAN live with it.
Unfortunately, I think the stress of the last few years has really taken its toll on Dad. I see it in many ways, but his forgetfulness is one of the most apparent. He forgets to take the “good” things I’ve given him (like the “cancer killers” or natural anti-inflammatories and immune modulators) – yet remembers to take the drugs, or forgets to avoid certain toxic foods, or ingredients. He “forgets” that eating a bowl of cereal every day, and a sandwich for lunch or dinner, is only adding more fuel to the fire.
Or, maybe he’s not really forgetting.
Either way, it has been an uphill battle. He is definitely not going to win any prizes for being my most compliant, proactive, dedicated patient! (He does, however, win the prize for being the patient I’ve known, loved, cherished, and respected the longest.)
Maybe dad has just made his own choices along the way… based on his lifetime’s worth of experience and knowledge. And that’s OK. I’ve begrudgingly come to terms with that, for the most part. Almost. Kind of.
You can lead a horse to water… and in the end, you’ve just got to love the bejeebers out of that horse, regardless of what he does with the water!
In our routine “de-briefing” session that follows these appointments, dad and I discussed “where we go from here”.
Our main focus right now is to manage some of his symptoms in the least damaging way possible. Even more important than that, we’re working on LIVING for however much time we’ve got left.
I’ve been through this before with mom. It’s not going to get any easier. I’m thankful that Dad is still as “well” as he is. I have a pretty good hunch what’s to come. I won’t be writing smart-arse blog posts then. It’s brutal. For now, this is how I get through it. Otherwise, I would have to throttle someone… and I’d end up in jail… and then I couldn’t share my insanity with you! How sad.
Cancer makes our fate feel rather pre-determined. But, in reality, we’re all faced with the same opportunity/challenge. We’re all moving on from this place at some point. None of us knows when or how. It’s clearly not up to us.
So, in the meantime, it seems that our greatest calling is to be the best people we can be, make the best choices we can (given our current resources and level of understanding), connect with and love others, enjoy living as much as we can, be grateful, be of service, and have faith… there is a Plan.
Our life here, or the life of a loved one, could end at any moment… regardless of our current state of health.
A diagnosis of something like cancer just does a great job of bringing what’s most important to the forefront.
Live and love while we can. Perhaps that’s the best “medicine” of all.
Dr. Colleen Trombley-VanHoogstraat (“Dr Mom Online”) is a leading authority figure in Natural Health & Wellness. She is a Doctor of Chiropractic with 18 years of hands-on clinical experience in the Wellness Practice she shares with her husband, Dr. Marc VanHoogstraat, in Michigan. She is also the proud (home schooling) mom of two rather fabulous youngsters.
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