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My Patient Swapped Chemotherapy for Essential Oils. Arguing is a Fool’s Errand

“Tell me why I should have your chemotherapy when I can be healed naturally!”

His face is set, his arms defensively squared. His friend carries a pamphlet that features a suspiciously healthy woman with glamorous hair and a glowing complexion. This is the urgent appointment of the day, for whom other patients were hastily shuffled to make room.

I know I shouldn’t take the bait but, like an addict, I have the urge to say:

Go ahead then, be healed. And I will almost certainly see you again, emaciated, ruined, lamenting the fact that it’s too late.

Thankfully, the code of conduct glides in. I imagine his dread. I remember my position. And I say: “Tell me more.”

I hear about the man who uses waves, the woman who boosts immunity and the seller of pure herbs. They are the healers – 100% convincing, 100% certified by a gaggle of secret Facebook users.

He asks: “What’s the guarantee of your chemo, anyway?”

I have perfected my retort during sleepless nights.

In life there are no guarantees but you have a curable cancer. Yes, there will be side effects but we can manage them. No, I can’t guarantee a cure, but I’d recommend evidence-based treatment any day over the magnet that purportedly draws out cancer cells. And while we are there, it’s not my chemotherapy. Your taxes fund my job but I don’t profit from giving you chemo.

But how many times have I heard that if oncologists hectored a little less and listened a little more, we might win more hearts?

So I bite my tongue again, thinking of the alarmed nurse who begged me to change his mind. As I talk him through his various options from least to most intensive, I remember the patient who swapped chemotherapy for essential oils, the one who chose to “burn” the tumour out and the one who suggested I become a sales representative for a life-saving juice.

“You don’t convince me.”

“You have the facts, you get to decide,” I reply.

I used to think that these second opinions were illuminating for patients and nudged them towards change. But what I have learnt in the last few years is that cancer patients in search of alternative cures are more deeply entrenched than ever in their beliefs. Thanks to the rise of social media, the ability to filter out conflicting viewpoints and a bevy of supporters for every outrageous idea, these people arrive convinced about their theories. Arguing with them is a fool’s errand.

 

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Source: The Guardian Australia