Advocacy of health treatment options for yourself is challenging at the best of times, but in the face of a cancer diagnosis, it takes bravery to select options that resonate with your spirit. I had been struggling on a philosophical basis with the recommended treatment of chemotherapy from the moment the words were entered into the air.
I undertook a literature review and read all information that was provided by the specialist and the hospital. I reviewed the regime of proposed chemotherapy drugs and their horrific ‘potential’ side effects. I read many blogs written by women who had been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and had undertaken chemotherapy. I read comments by women who chose to not undertake chemotherapy and lived well over the statistical 10 years target, some up to 27 years post diagnosis.
I read about ‘chemo brain’, a state of cognitive confusion and lack of short term memory recall that occurs for some patients during chemotherapy and for many remains permanently. This renders the individual unable to work, drive, read or conduct conversation as recall is limited. There is no screening capacity prior to undertaking chemo and the damage of the chemotherapy process is not necessary a cumulative one and at any stage of the cycles side effects occur on an individual basis. There are lists of common side effects for each drug, with fever, low white and red blood cell count, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea,numbness and pain in hands and feet, constipation, hair loss and nail loss and mouth ulcers, making the top ten.
In the mine field of decision making, Greg and I attended the pre-chemotherapy session where a cheery nurse informed us of the process and provided a folder of information. I sat in a chemo chair, terrified and vulnerable while responding to questions and listening to a constant flow of words which explained the process and patient expectations of the chemo experience. We left, shattered and frightened. I felt an overwhelming fear of surrendering my soul to the medical machine, which failed to individualise my treatment options but relied on statistical data to determine my odds of survival and reoccurrence.
My father, who turned 97 in November 2012, has lived his life, post bowel cancer with strict adherence to the principles of the body system. He has counselled, lectured,shared, imparted and been the media darling of ‘healthy ageing’. His mantra includes organic flour, low fat, high fibre, small portions of fish or chicken and no stimulants and artificial sweeteners. He often referred to white sugar and white flour, as ‘white death’.
Intuitively, the treatment option of chemotherapy and radiation, which would with chemo, reduce my body PH to 2, highly acidic and with radiation, to shrivel and destroy cellular structures at the localised site of the tumour lesion, did not sit comfortably with me. These options maybe the right choice or the only medical model solution to reduce tumour size prior to surgery or for palliative care at the end of life.
My cancer had been removed and it had not spread to the sentinel node or to any lymph nodes. Chemotherapy was offered as a method to ‘mop’ up cells which may have travelled to other sites, and a methodology to reduce odds of reoccurrence.
The 20th December was to be the first day of chemo treatment and we arrived at the oncologist’s to discuss my blood levels taken as a base level. Ironically we both had forgotten the requirement that I have an ECG which is completed prior to surgery in order to ascertain potential heart problems so that the regime of chemo drugs can be altered or monitored for potential damage to the heart muscle. The oncologist checked for previous related heart conditions and was satisfied to proceed. I raised the issue of chemo brain and she looked for a recent yet fully published clinic study which found 50 % of women undertaking chemo had ‘chemo brain’ three years after treatment had ended. I decided not to undertake the treatment and cancelled the procedure in the oncology ward and made a subsequent appointment in the 3rd January 2013 to review options.
Today, Greg and I visited my general practitioner to update her regarding our decision to not undertake six rounds of chemotherapy but to instead undertake a bi-lateral mastectomy to remove all breast tissue. She was very supportive and wrote a referral letter back to my surgeon for a bi-lateral mastectomy. At this stage, I will not be returning to the oncologist for chemotherapy.