Pro Choice & Pro Life

Cancer coach and blogger Elyn Jacobs comments, “Yesterday I spoke with a woman with stage 1, wanted to treat her cancer naturally, opted out of surgery.” She goes on to talk about the challenge of finding a doctor who could HEAR and respond to the needs of the patient, rather than play their own scripts about treatment expectations.

Elyn’s comment reminded me of a the day when I had a new support group member. This lovely, older woman was the only “newbie” that afternoon, amongst a group of in-treatment and post-treatment women. When it was her turn to share, the woman told us that she had a lump. It had been there for about four years. Moreover, she had lost a mother and sister to breast cancer.

To say the other women in the group went on the attack would be an understatement. They were beside themselves, with responses that ranged from “How could you?” to “I’ll go with you….” It was all I could to fend them off. As facilitator, it was my job to honor this woman’s choice, even if her choice was not life.

There are days when it is hard to honor the choices of those who don’t see the world the way we do. And yet isn’t that the essence of choosing life…. If we choose not to seek treatment, are we not choosing life as it has been handed to us? How do we embrace the choice of those who do not see life as we do?

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TalkAboutHealth
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 20:35:26

    Wow, amazing story Lori. Thank you for raising awareness around accepting others choices and points of view even if they are different from our own. This is one of the most difficult things for people to do. No one wants to feel alone, and when others make decisions that are different, we can take it personally as they are disapproving or disagreeing with our choices.

    I would argue that these individuals should be encouraged and supported.


  2. DrAttai
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 21:46:04

    It can be very difficult as a friend, family member, or physician to stand by and watch someone make choices or decisions that you “know” are so wrong…but are they really the wrong decisions? Maybe for you, but not for the patient. As long as the patient has been educated about her choices, I feel that my role as a physician is to support whatever decision she makes regarding her treatment, even if the decision is no treatment. To do otherwise will only make the patient feel abandoned and alone, at a time when she most needs support and care. Sometimes all you can do is let the patient know that whatever she decides, you will be there for her – and sometimes that is the best thing that you can do.


  3. Jackie Fox
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 06:43:11

    This is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? I’m huge on choice. I had a single mastectomy for DCIS. I know women who’ve opted for lumpectomy and skipped radiation, women who’ve done the lumpectomy/radiation combo, and still other women who had preventative bilateral mastectomies.I have said many times that we have to make the choice that’s right for us, not someone else. Yet watching someone choose to take no action would be tough, there’s no doubt about it. But it is their choice, not yours or mine. Great post.


  4. Jody Schoger
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 09:46:29

    What’s most interesting is that these two women — especially the one who with the four-year old lump – chose to come to the support group in the first place. That is telling in and of itself.

    How do you handle it if she returns, week after week, having done nothing? I’m hoping the group can empower her to seek diagnostic testing to at least discover what she has. If not, how do you think the group will react? Can a breast cancer support group support someone who may not be acting in her own best interest?

    A challenge, to say the least.


    • Lori
      Jul 09, 2011 @ 12:20:26

      Agreed…and we discussed that her presence WAS doing something! One of those moments when the others made it about themseleves, rather than about her. More on that below…


  5. Lori
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 11:32:32

    Great insights, all! This is why I love the dialogue!

    To clarify: the woman in my support group had never mentioned the lump to her doctor, had never had a biopsy, and obviously was never diagnosed. She was paralyzed by fear, and having watched her mother and sister die of breast cancer, one could hardly blame her. To my knowledge, she never did see a doctor, and eventually left the agency,

    However, the discussion makes me wonder WHY our initial reactions are so strong. In this case it has given me cause to question whether the women in the support group were simply unable to hear that there was a path other than the one their own treatment decisions took them on….


  6. Paul
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:19:20

    Still learning.


  7. Diana
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:24:24

    I’ve had a hard time all my life trying to stand up for the choices I want. Just beginning to be able to say “no”… or “yes.” It’s sometimes hard to get some people in your life to understand why you make the decisions you do. Even harder to get them to understand that you have fears with some of those choices.


  8. elynjacobs
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 13:04:15

    Great comments. Lori, somehow I missed this or my foggy head is forgetful. Thank you so much for mentioning me!


  9. elynjacobs
    Sep 09, 2011 @ 08:29:41

    Friends often think they are helpful when criticizing a chosen treatment plan. Many women choose not even to discuss with friends their choice for surgery, as surely some friends will be adamant about mastectomy and others lumpectomy, and this is terribly unfair to the patient. It is for us and us alone to choose and be confident with a path chosen. Doubt is not a healthy thing, but is ever-present. However, again, this is unfair of others to cast doubt or offer opinions. I always say that when a friend or loved one is diagnosed, support is great, information is helpful, but advice is unacceptable.


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