Doctor: “I am sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer, and it appears to have spread to your bones.”
Patient: “But I am only 31 and I have a husband and two young kids?”
Doctor: “I understand how you must feel and that is why we need to act quickly. I have arranged for you to see a surgeon on Monday. You will need to have a mastectomy – that is your left breast removed- immediately and then we will follow-up with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”
Patient: “I’m not sure what that is but anyway, what is my prognosis”.
Doctor: “It is hard to say, but I would suggest we have a 50-50 chance of giving you a reasonable chance of survival. Now is there anything else I can help you with?”
Patient: “Err, no. Thank you and I will see the surgeon on Monday, yes?”
With that, the terrified and shattered mother and wife, walks into the waiting room and collapses into the arms of her equally devastated husband.
The above scenario sadly is played out daily in Perth cancer clinics but it is what happens next that is truly frightening.....
Despite telling her doctor that she had ‘no further questions’, the young woman’s head is literally ‘spinning’ with a thousand unanswered questions and concerns. Desperate to ‘do something’ the husband then gets onto ‘Dr Google’ via the internet to look for ways in which to help his wife ‘fight’ this terrible disease.
Within minutes he is confronted with thousands of ‘alternative’ and 'natural' therapies offered by cancer ‘gurus’ who offer a ‘cure’ for all types of cancer...at a price of course! And when people are threatened, confused and frozen with fear they will do almost anything to ‘live’...including paying large amounts of money for so called ‘miracle cures’.
In some cases, including several high profile cases reported in The West Australian last year, the end result is not only the loss of the patient’s money but also a horrible, and frightening experience.
So what should we do as a community to stop this happening?
A senior Australian coroner has previously suggested the government should legislate against so-called ‘natural therapies’. This is a classic case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ as it is based on a lack of understanding of the difference between the cancer charlatans - who promise ‘quick-fix’ and expensive cures – and the high quality cancer support groups that bless us here in Perth; and who offer practical and proven complementary therapies and lifestyle choices that can be of immense benefit to patients and their carers’.
So let’s revisit that earlier conversation between the doctor and the young women, and let’s assume the doctor is well-informed and genuinely wants to not only help his patient but also protect her from the charlatans waiting outside his door......
Doctor: ‘Now before you leave, I must say that I am sure what has happened today will cause a huge upheaval for you and your family and I understand that this news is devastating for you.”
Patient: “O f course. I am completely shattered and don’t know where to turn.”
Doctor: “I can refer you to one of the very fine cancer support charities that operate here in Perth. They are not in the business of promising you a magical cure or an alternative to what I have recommended for you, but they can help you - and your partner - to develop strategies to improve your general and mental health. This can be done through improved nutrition, attending support groups and also using therapies such as meditation to reduce stress and anxiety instead of Valium. But most of all they can help you both feel that you-along with me as your doctor- can really play an important part in your goal to get well again.”
Sadly however, most cancer specialists in their desire to ‘protect’ their patients from the charlatans, fail to refer their patients to these cancer support groups here in Perth; unintentionally sending their patients into the arms of those they need to avoid.
In Perth, our cancer support charities that are amongst the best in the world; who have the capacity to work ‘in harmony’ with the medical practitioners to improve the cancer ‘journey’ and achieve the best outcome for their patient and family.
The Cancer Council of WA; Solaris Cancer Care, MelanomaWA, Cancer Support-WA and Breast Cancer Care-WA are just a few of the excellent organisations available to patients at very little or no cost. They practise ‘complementary’, rather than ‘alternative’ therapies. Together with cancer specialists they can make an enormous difference to the one in three people who are diagnosed with cancer by the age of 75.
All that we need to do is to encourage doctors to refer their patients to these organisations, and to also convince coroners’ that there is a huge, and critical, difference between the two types of, what he calls, natural therapies!
Ross Taylor is a cancer survivor and the author of “Living Simply with Cancer’ and “Creating Health...Yourself”. He holds senior honorary roles in a number of leading cancer support charities throughout WA and has lectured on the subject through Australia and Asia.