Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Colorectal Cancer Part 3: Must You Die if You Do Not Undergo Chemotherapy After Surgery?

Two people came to mind when I am writing this article on colorectal cancer. Let me relate their stories.

Story 1:

Mat (not real name) is a 45-year old professional who was diagnosed with Duke's C rectum cancer. Eight of 16 lymph nodes were involved. He had an operation and subsequently underwent chemotherapy with 5-FU + leucovorin. The first chemo-treatment made his life miserable due to severe side effects. He decided to opt out of chemotherapy and came to us for help. He was started on herbs and felt real good after that.

Mat has a good friend who is a medical doctor. When his doctor-friend came to know that he had abandoned chemotherapy, he became agitated and came to see Mat and pleaded with him to continue with his chemo-treatment. According to this doctor-friend, what Mat did was wrong and he would not want to see his dearest friend die for nothing. He must go through the "proven path" of treatment. After all, to a medical doctor, herbal therapy is not definitive or scientifically proven.

Taken by his friend's sincere concern for him, Mat relented and resumed his chemotherapy. The second treatment caused just as severe side effects as before. He felt like dying. Then, he came to a realization and asked himself: "What am I doing to myself? I suffered so much undergoing a treatment which I was not sure would even help me. Why, oh why am I "killing" myself? Am I doing this to please my doctor-friend or am I doing this for myself?" Mat was awakened to this fact and decided that he would please himself over all others. He decided to stop further chemotherapy.

The decision Mat made weighed heavily on me. When he came to me, I made it explicitly clear that the decision to undergo chemotherapy or not must be entirely his own decision. I cannot make that decision for him. So, he probably had made his decision based on his own guts feeling and we have to respect that. It has been some years now and Mat is still doing alright. One might want to ask: "Would Mat survive the six or eight cycles of chemotherapy, given the fact that even the first two cycles already caused severe reactions?"

It is a standard practice or golden rule so to say, that after surgery, patients are asked to undergo chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. Sometime, when the doctor does not think chemotherapy is indicated, the patients themselves do not feel safe.

Story 2:

It was on 29 July 2001, 9.30 p.m. I was on the phone talking to a lady from England. Her Malaysian-born sister had colon cancer sometime in March 1999. She underwent an operation. The doctor in UK said that since the cancer was at its early stage (Duke's 2), there was no need for her to do any chemotherapy. Not satisfied, she came to Singapore to see another oncologist. Since she was still young (46 years old) the oncologist recommended chemotherapy. This would be "safer" for her - preventive or insurance against possible problems later. So she underwent six cycles of chemotherapy in Singapore.

March 2000 -- a scan showed a 3 cm mass in her liver. She again came to Singapore. Further investigations by doctors in Singapore showed that there was also a 1 cm mass in the lung. The doctors recommended surgery for the liver and /or the lung. However, when the doctors opened up the abdomen, they saw numerous nodules in the peritoneum. The removal of the liver-lung was abandoned. The abdomen was closed back. She underwent another eight cycles of chemotherapy.
After the fourth chemotherapy the tumours decreased in size but subsequent chemotherapy did not show any further improvements. In short, chemotherapy did not achieve its intended purpose. She felt hopeless and decided to quit and returned to England.

She started on Gerson Therapy in Liverpool for five months. During that period the tumours had grown to twice their sizes. She then opted to participate in a clinical trial at one of London's top hospitals. She was again subjected to another eight cycles of chemotherapy.

29 July 2001 -- The purpose of the sister calling was to seek my help since there seems to be no other avenues left for her. Sometimes she was in pain, and she required sleeping pill.

This is the perception the world of today has with regards to cancer treatment. Chemotherapy is the answer and it must be done, otherwise you die from not doing it. With due respect, Mat's doctor-friend believed that chemotherapy is the only key to Mat's survival. Other ways are suspect and unreliable for lack of proof. So, Mat must go for chemotherapy or he will die. The truth is, Mat is still alive! But the lady from London, she was "emotionally a wreck " and died not long after her sister talked to me.

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