Stopping treatment is not giving up

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I sometimes hear from individuals with advanced cancer who continue with aggressive treatment because their loved ones exhort them to “not give up.”

Some family members go so far as to say that stopping treatment is the same as committing suicide.

It’s not.

I wish that we could reframe this discussion because when people choose to stop active treatment, they’re generally doing so not to give up, but to gain control.

If you’re living with advanced cancer, chemotherapy isn’t likely to cure your cancer. The chemo is given to extend your life. That’s terrific as long as the quality of your life is relatively good.

But at some point, the benefits of chemotherapy become smaller.

Personally, I’d hate to spend the last few months of my life going through chemotherapy. Even if most side effects were well-controlled, there’s likely to be fatigue. I’d rather have four relatively good months without chemotherapy than six relatively difficult months with chemotherapy.

But I don’t presume to know what’s best for anyone else. What’s important is that I get to make this decision.

If your loved one is talking about stopping active treatment, it’s often a sign that they want to be in control, and I think that’s good.

Rather than changing the subject or pleading with them to “not give up,” why don’t you ask them what they’re thinking? Then listen and promise to support them.

When you do, you might find that they want to continue treatment. But they will know that it’s their decision to make.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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