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December 26, 2012


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Bill Kleine

Thank you for your clarity. It reminds me of the sadness I feel when I see people forgo treatments with the potential to help them because of the false fear. Sure, cancer treatments can be tough. There is no easy way to kill these cells. Just look at how awful our own immune system makes us feel, and all it has to do is kill things that obviously don't belong in our body. Chemotherapies have to somehow kill our own, but terribly confused cells without damaging too many of their close cousins. I make it a habit to tell folks, if you really can't stand this or that chemo, you can quit it--the doctor may very well have an alternative.

I once read an article in a medical journal that defined "false hope" quite differently. It chided doctors for offering patients treatments when their cancers were "too" advanced, which they claimed would lead to "needless suffering". Sort of like my original surgeon's advice that I go home and prepare a will. I have remained alive 20 years through such interventions.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD

Dear Bill,

The problem, of course, is knowing if there is any realistic chance of success when treating advanced cancer and if the price of trying is worth it to an individual. Your surgeon's remarks suggest (s)he felt you had no chance of recovery, while the oncologist who treated you disagreed, believing you did have a chance, however small.

One Healthy Survivor may decline toxic therapy for a 1% chance of recovery while another Healthy Survivor may be willing to suffer treatment and aftereffects for that same 1% chance. Both these patients are making wise decisions if these decisions are in keeping with their values and outlook.

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