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Crystal Ball

November 19, 2012

An article by Jane Brody in today’s New York Times hit me right between the eyes.

She says what I say, and what I wish more people would say, which is that cancer treatment often makes no sense at all. If someone is going to die anyway, why put them through hell on the way there?

Why indeed? Because no one wants to die. The article, which is worth a read, talks about the inability of so many cancer patients to admit that they are going to die, sooner.

It’s a hard thing to admit. It’s an even harder thing to know, and I think we put an unfair burden on our doctors to tell us what will happen to us. Because they can’t know.

Here is what they can, and do know: they know the outcomes of other patients with cancers similar to ours and treatment plans like the ones they are proposing for us. In my case, between 60 and 70 percent of women presenting with breast cancer like mine died within a few years. I’m obviously in the minority of women who didn’t, and I have always been grateful to my doctors for being open with me about my prognosis.

“I’m sorry,” my surgeon told me in a moment of complete candor I will treasure forever.

On the other hand, I was open to hearing bad news. I asked, and asked directly.

“How serious is my disease? Is it curable? Are we just going to make my last few months a living hell?”

“I hope not, but your disease is curable,” I was told.

Not everyone has my kind of outlook. I imagine most people wouldn’t want to know.

I think the only thing missing from Ms. Brody’s outstanding article is the concept of grace, and the acknowledgement that everyone is just doing the best they can in a bad situation.


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