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Treat With Dignity

By HERWriter
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A woman was just referred to me to discuss end of life issues. She was recently diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer and told that her case was hopeless.

According to her, the doctor said surgery was not an option. She was offered chemotherapy to buy a little time, but understood that it would make her sick until she died. She decided against it.

Her spirit shattered, she managed to find me to ask what the end would be like so that she could prepare her husband. She had been given very graphic details about the horrible death she would soon experience and she was seeking ways to minimize the trauma for her loving partner of several decades. It was, she believed, all that was left in her power to do.

"Have you had a second opinion?"
"Why aren’t they doing surgery?"
"I don’t know."
"How much time?"
"Soon . . . I’m not sure."
"How do you feel?"
"Like I’m already dead. I didn’t know what else to do but try to help my husband before . . ."

The woman who came in search of the unthinkable now has support from survivor volunteers offering information, treatment alternatives, referrals for second opinions, and friendship. Wherever her path leads, she will not be alone; she will move forward on her journey with companionship and heart and compassion. She will have her dignity.

Regardless of the situation, every patient is someone’s mother, brother, wife or lover - with a life outside of the disease that brought them to this moment in time. Each had dreams and desires, good years and bad hair days. And each has the right to kindness in the face of life-threatening illness.

Survival is not just about medicine. Sometimes, the best treatment is to treat with respect.

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Thank you for your insightful and encouraging advice. Those survivors who do best are those who take the steps you've outlined so well. I agree 100% and I congratulate you on taking charge of your treatment and your life. We need to hear more survivor stories like this! Thanks for sharing your amazing journey. Annette

April 13, 2009 - 1:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

Dear Annette, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIc ovarian cancer in 2004. The last 5 years have been a medical workout for sure and I consider myself an extremely lucky woman to be alive. During chemo or other treatments I have met so many women who only see one doctor for all of their care. I have a background in medicine myself, my ex husband is a physician and my son is a physician, so have a bit more savvy than a lot of women to the workings of the medical system. I think it is imperative that women understand that doctors are people with all the biases and limitations of people in general. I would advise all woman to get as many opinions as possible; this is about living and has nothing to do with the doctor who made the diagnosis. I have been to UC Irvine, the Mayo Clinic in MN, Stanford, USC, UC Davis, Univ of Washington, Reno, NV and Queens in Honolulu, personally for surgery and/or treatment. I have also had consults either in person or by phone with MD Anderson, Nat'l Cancer Institute, the Univ of Tennessee and a few other clinics offering new treatments options. I was told many times that a second debulking surgery was pointless; I am alive today because I insisted on a second surgery. I also signed up with google for ovarian cancer 'google alerts' and receive any information that has been in the media around the world on a daily basis. I know there may be a time that I will come to the end of my treatment options but I also know I have given myself every opportunity to live and spent time enjoying my family and friends. Two other points I would like to share with other women is 1) exercise during chemo. Believe me I know how contrary to how one feels that idea is but it helps so much. Even on my worst days, my doctor son would talk me into getting on the treadmill and lifting a few weights. It was like magic... did I feel perfect? not at all but the improvement was remarkable. 2) Divorce yourself from stress as much as you possibly can. Ovarian cancer is highly correlated to stress. After my first surgery/chemo I returned to work and my normal work/make money/pay bills/save for retirement life. When I was diagnosed recurrent (which most of us know is pretty much a death sentence) I realized I needed to make changes, get rid of stress as much as possible and enjoy what time I had left. I was terrified I could not afford to live at first; I was stepping off the financial cliff into the unknown. I have been 'retired' now since 7/06 when I was 56 years old. My lifestyle has definitely changed, shopping has no importance to me any longer and I am careful how I spend my money but it was great decision. I did not want to be on my deathbed looking back saying 'gee that was great, I worked and stressed', but rather, 'gee I am so happy I enjoyed every minute I could playing, laughing and enjoying my sons, grandchildren, family and friends'. Fight for your life and look at what is important; put your priorities in perspective.

April 13, 2009 - 12:09pm

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I've heard this sort of story. I think doctors walk a fine line on what to communicate on these difficult cases. But it would have been so much kinder to get this woman some help while she was being given the devastating diagnosis. She had no tools, no hope, and felt totally alone. Fortunately, she found the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance who referred her to me. Imagine how many never call. Also, I would always get a 2nd opinion, especially with bad news. Maybe a different doc will have a different idea about her case. After all, she has nothing to lose.

April 12, 2009 - 9:54pm

Annette, what a heart-wrenching post.

I'm so glad the woman found her way to you. Her experience was horrible. I don't know anything about her doctor or what led up to her feeling like she had no options, but it is almost unforgiveable that she was nearly made to feel like nothing but a burden waiting to die.

Thank you for seeing that from here on out, she will have the information and support she so desperately needs.

April 12, 2009 - 6:35pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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