Things happen so fast when you are diagnosed with cancer. At least they did for me.
Since my tumor was HER 2 neu positive, it was growing quickly. According to the doctors, this is why I would need chemotherapy. They recommended that I start the treatment regimen sooner rather than later, so I had to decide quickly. I remember trying to come up with ways to circumvent the chemo. Maybe my medical team hadn’t thought it through and there was a chance I could avoid it altogether.
If I have a mastectomy, would I still need chemotherapy?
Yes, they told me. It was possible that some cancer cells escaped from the tumor site and were roaming in my body. The chemotherapy would help with that.
But the PET scan didn’t reveal any metastases. Why do I still need chemotherapy?
The PET scan doesn’t pick up small numbers of cancer cells, they said.
What if we do a sentinel node biopsy and there are no cancer cells in my lymph nodes? Doesn’t that mean the cancer hasn’t left the tumor site?
No, they said. Sometimes they escape through the circulatory system without appearing in the lymph nodes.
Chemotherapy seemed inevitable. For a brief moment, I chose to trust my doctors’ advice and accept a treatment plan that included these drugs. But then I started Googling and reading. I knew that chemotherapy would have short-term side effects such as hair loss and severe gastrointestinal issues, but my research alerted me to even scarier, longer term effects. I learned about loss of cognitive function known as “chemo brain.” I learned about the possibility of developing cancers of the blood. I learned that chemotherapy is so toxic that there are special procedures for cleaning up spills and avoiding contact with the skin. I learned that veins can sometimes collapse and harden from contact with the chemotherapy drugs.
Just as I was beginning to feel confident that we had a plan for attacking the cancer, I became scared again. That’s how my whole affair with cancer has been. Up one minute. Feeling positive. Scared the next. Uncertain.
A coworker asked if I had considered declining the chemotherapy and looking into alternative therapies, so I contemplated this possibility. The idea of natural healing appealed to me. Wouldn’t it be great to rid my body of cancer gently and sidestep the toxic effects of chemotherapy?
Hopeful again, I began researching alternative healing methods, but almost immediately I became even more confused. I found so many recipes for curing cancer naturally. Which one was best? Which should I choose? I read about the Gerson Therapy, Laetrile, curcumin, Habanero peppers, and many other diet regimens and concoctions that supposedly cure cancer. I read many success stories detailing how certain people had been cured of cancer using natural remedies, but I also read stories of people who died trying. However, the same was true of chemotherapy. It doesn’t always work.
I didn’t know what to do.
This was one of the most difficult choices I’ve had to make during my bout with cancer. I love my body, and the idea of damaging it with the chemo was dreary. At the same time, I knew I had to do whatever would most effectively increase my chances of survival. I have two young children, and leaving them motherless would be cruel.
In the end, I chose chemotherapy for two reasons:
- It has been studied systematically, and
- My health insurance would help me pay for it
While I really like the idea of natural healing, I believe these methods haven’t been studied in such a way that we could know whether people’s healing is due to the treatment or some other cause. I didn’t find any alternative methods supported by studies using randomized control and experimental groups. Knowing that some cancers disappear without any intervention, it is hard to determine whether these natural cures are indeed responsible for the success stories. At least with chemotherapy, studies using randomized control groups have compared outcomes for people using the treatment to people using no treatment. Studies and clinical trials have allowed doctors to pinpoint which drugs work best for different types of breast cancers. Despite the horrible side effects associated with chemotherapy, the fact that it has been demonstrated to work with cancers like mine was reassuring.
With regard to cost, chemotherapy is very expensive, but it was more economical than alternative treatments. My health insurance would help offset the cost of chemo but not that of an alternative regimen. While there are affordable recipes online for curing cancer with certain foods or supplements, going to a treatment center where they educate you on curing your cancer with diet and lifestyle changes was costly — upwards of $25,000 plus travel and lodging. Typically, you go to a treatment center for three or more weeks. Some of these programs include lodging and some don’t. While I cannot put a price tag on my health, the question remained: What if I invest in any of these alternative treatments and they don’t work?
I believe that faith in your treatment regimen plays a part in the healing process. Like a placebo effect. If you believe that what you’re doing is going to work, then it is more likely to work. I know — this isn’t very scientific, but it’s my personal belief. So I knew I had to pick a treatment that I could trust, and after lots of deliberation, chemotherapy was it. If nothing else, proceeding in this manner would allow me to have no regrets. I had thoroughly researched my options and selected what I considered the best possible route. Then, I backed my choice with faith. If things didn’t turn out in my favor, I would give alternative healing methods a try. I wouldn’t have much to lose at that point. But given my circumstances and personal beliefs, chemotherapy was the better choice for me.
It turned out that my tumor began to dissolve with the first cycle of chemo. It was unbelievable! I could feel it getting softer and smaller. By the third cycle, it was no longer palpable. Today, I am definitely dealing with some long-term effects of chemo. They suck, but I’m happy to be alive. Let’s hope that one of the long-term effects is that the cancer doesn’t ever come back.
Have you chosen to treat cancer with other methods instead of chemotherapy? What influenced your decision?