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Telling Your Doctor “No”


When it comes to cancer, the doctor-patient relationship is a lifelong commitment, and that means your life, not theirs.

When a patient has been through five or six treatments in the sword fight against a progressive disease, the wear and tear can be debilitating. I’ve spent time in the oncologist’s waiting room, watching other patients’ difficult journey.

For many cancer patients, there comes a moment when they decide how far down that road they want to go. When their doctor reaches deep down into the quiver of last-resort treatments, will they have the guts to say, “Thank you very much, I’d rather not.”

Once you’ve spent a few years in those small examination rooms hearing the good and not-so-good news from your physician, you come to understand the position that doctors are in. Great oncologists are trained to take statistical data and apply it appropriately to each patient as an individual in the context of each patient’s personal story.

For patients, how you fare and how long you live will be duly noted on a spreadsheet that records other clinical outcomes, and you’re hoping the data reveals a path forward against the disease.

Once you grasp that reality, the treatments presented to you become more of a smorgasbord than a fixed-menu.

By saying “no” to a particular treatment, patients are literally taking their lives in their own hands. Which, in the long run, is where it belongs.

By: Ken Burger, former Post and Courier sports columnist and local author. Reach Ken at ken.burger@rsfh.com.

Editor’s note: Ken Burger is writing a series of blog posts about his current Provenge treatment for prostate cancer. This is the seventh in the series. Missed the first post? Read Milestone Moments now. 

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