Being the mother of an adult with cancer comes with special challenges. In my motherly world, my baby will always be my baby and the need for shelter and protection was enormous even though my child had been alone for a third of his life when he was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27.
I knew from the start that it would be difficult to follow her lead if she chose not to do everything to kill the monster within herself even if it meant she would suffer in the short term.
Because, you know… I just wanted her to live.
I see a lot of talk about treatment options that are less aggressive than the plan my daughter’s oncology team offered her. There are stories of one or two of the traditional three mainstays – radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy – being used to treat cancer patients, with the most sought after being, if possible, the last on this list.
The only member of the team treating my daughter who took the less aggressive route was her surgeon who offered her a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, probably because the location of the tumor gave her confidence that he could get all this using less drastic operation.
Yet despite everything she has been through in the months of treatment, whatever long-term side effects she experiences and will endure for the rest of her life, and in the face of all the memories we let’s share about the darkness that invaded her as chemo spread through her body, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Because, you know… she’s still here.
It seems easy to look from the outside and question the health choices others make. It may even seem encouraging to suggest a change in diet, take a supplement or two, or use focused thinking to keep the cancer away.
But no matter how much one might wish that picking up a bottle of something or other at the health food store and meditating on a scenic mountainside would save people with cancer from life-changing treatments, this just isn’t how things work.
To understand the choices cancer patients make, think back to the days when there was no cure and cancer was usually a literal death sentence. When a tumor within a woman would often end up bursting through the skin had it not metastasized and wreaked havoc on her other organs. Think of the first woman who, when her doctor offered to remove her breast, jumped on it because she knew what the alternative was. Or the first patient who was told that radiation, which the world knew had caused the death of a famous scientist, was the best treatment option to give him more life and they did .
My daughter and I were both as aware as the majority of the public of what chemo and radiation could do to her body, even though the truth is known only to those who have been through it. But like those early cancer patients who chose what they thought gave them the best chance of seeing another birthday, my daughter didn’t hesitate to sign her consent for every medical procedure she was offered.
As a result of her choices, I didn’t have to find a way to respectfully nudge her toward what I thought was best. My role was simply to hold her hand, rub her head, and fill small dishes with blueberries and cucumbers.
My daughter never questioned the treatment plan. She thinks the experts won’t make the recommendations they’ve made unless their experience has shown them that doing less hasn’t worked. I agree that a big part of the cake was not just that the treatment matched her cancer, but that she was lucky. I sometimes wonder if maybe there wasn’t also a placebo effect at work in the faith she had in the strategy that helped her body pull through. We will never know. But you know what?
We can sit across from each other and think about the possibility, so you won’t see any Monday morning quarterbacks here.
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