The unspoken truth about cancer is that, often, the worst part of having cancer is not dying but rather living with the side effects associated with the "cancer treatments."
Cancer begins with a single renegade cell in the body that has lost its ability to die. Then, it reproduces itself and forms an outlaw band of reproducing cells that want to be immortal. The growth of these rebellious cancer cells is insidious and often unnoticed for months, years or decades before their excessive growth begins to cause symptoms. At that point, the patient seeks medical care and is diagnosed with cancer.
The medically and socially acceptable form of medical care for cancer patients is to "treat the cancer" with chemicals and radiation. When successful, the cancer suffers at least temporary setbacks or "remissions;" however, the damaging effects of the treatments on the patient and the negative impact on their quality of life may be lingering and irreversible. From the first day of the cancer treatment, the cancer patient's life changes forever.
Sadly, when an individual is diagnosed with cancer, they are often told that time is of the essence (although they may have been living with cancer for a long time). They may be pressured into beginning drastic treatments immediately, without being told they have any other choice (i.e., hospice care) or what the effects of the treatments will be. Or, equally sad, the patient may fear they would disappoint their physician, family and friends if they elected comfort care instead of aggressive treatments.
There are individuals who are not afraid of dying and -- when faced with the knowledge that they have a terminal illness such as cancer -- want to spend the rest of their life completing their goals, setting their affairs in order, and telling their stories one last time. They just want to be comfortable. In a better world, they would be given the knowledge that they have a choice of living their life to the fullest until the end. They would be told they have the right to die at home -- surrounded by their loved ones, with dignity and comfort -- instead of dying in a hospital trying just one more treatment. And everyone else would support their wishes concerning the final chapter of their life.
Marty Johnson, RN
Hospice Care of Kansas, Lenexa