When someone is diagnosed with cancer, sometimes they have to make difficult decisions about which treatments to have, or whether to refuse certain treatments altogether. As a friend or family member, you might not expect this.
Sometimes we have an illusion that the all-knowing doctor in their white coat will pronounce from on high the correct course of action, that will be carried out and all will be well. But the world of cancer is not precise and sometimes there are choices to be made. Lumpectomy or full mastectomy? Accept chemotherapy or refuse it? And so on. So how do you negotiate the minefield of talking about those treatment decisions with a friend or family member who is making them?
Relax. It may feel like a huge responsibility talking over these kinds of choices with someone who is facing cancer treatment. But the responsibility for the ultimate decision is theirs, so try to relax about your role. You may only need to act as a sounding board so they can explore the options and be more comfortable with their decision.
Acknowledge your fears. It will be hard for you to offer an impartial discussion if your thoughts are full of your own fears. You may be terrified that choosing the ‘wrong’ treatment will condemn them to an untimely death, and this could cause you to exert pressure. So talk about your fears – it may be appropriate to do this with someone who is less involved.
Ask what else they need to know. The person making the decision may have all the information they need – or there may be some things that are unclear. Do they need a second opinion about the diagnosis or possible treatments? Would some statistics on differing effects of the treatment options on their particular type and severity of cancer make the decision easier to make? Do they need to know what they can do to increase the beneficial results of any treatment? Or do they simply want to know that the treatment recommended by the doctor is what’s best for them?
Consider the Pros and Cons. Remember that any treatment option, including complementary and alternative medicine, has both advantages and disadvantages. The decision could be made from a desire to avoid some possibilities (for example losing their hair) or from a wish to achieve certain ends (eg maintain their body image). Only the person with cancer can know what holds more weight for them.
Trust their judgement. You might be tempted to think that you know what is good for someone who has cancer.’ Of course they should have chemotherapy’, or ‘of course natural methods would be best for them’. But you don’t know their body - they do. If they have a strong instinct about any particular treatment plan, they are probably right.
Remember the benefits of ‘excited belief’. According to Greg Anderson in his book ‘Cancer : 50 Essential Things To Do’, “cancer survivors develop a confidence and an excited belief in their treatment programs that other patients do not possess.” Persuading someone to undertake a treatment they feel reluctant about will not generate that excited belief – it has to come from inside the person making the decision.
Back them up. Whatever treatment decisions the person makes in the end, and whether you agree or not, get excited with them. Be one hundred percent positive that whatever the outcome, they have made the best possible decision for them in this set of circumstances.
Having someone to talk over these difficult issues with can be of benefit to someone about to choose and undergo treatment for cancer. Simply by being available and open you will be a great help.
Anne Orchard knows what it is like to support a loved one with cancer, and the pain it brings. Having lost her mother, she took her own inner journey to come to a place of peace. She writes from that place to support others who are still on the path. To get more support, or download a free chapter of 'Their Cancer - Your Jourhey', visit http://www.familiesfacingcancer.org/