Question posed by Billi Jo: What is the effectiveness of Chemotherapy as a Breast Cancer treatment?
My mom was recently diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma which has spread into the lymph nodes, stage 2A breast cancer. Her treatment option is Chemotherapy, Surgery, AND then Radiation. She is convinced that the chemo will kill her, not the cancer. Do you regret you decision to use Chemo as a cancer treatment? If you refused this treatment, how do you feel about that decision now? I need answers from people who have used chemo as a cancer treatment. People with personal experiences with the treatment, not medical facts! I have read everything I can find on Chemo so, in order to help her make an educated decision I need to be able to tell her about personal experiences, since the statistics and side effects have convinced her against this treatment. She has canceled her appointment to have the port put in, in order to start Chemo, once already.

The best answer:

Answer by lo_mcg
I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer almost seven years ago; it had spread to 13 lymph nodes and was grade 3.

I had surgery, then chemotherapy, then radiotherapy.

I felt much as your mum does; I didn’t want chemotherapy, and in fact explored and even dabbled with ‘alternative treatment’ (I put that in inverted commas because I now know that no ‘alternative treatment has been proven to have been effective against cancer in a single case, ever).

So what I did then was find out, by asking my oncologist, by what percentage chemotherapy would increase my survival chances. In my case it was significant; I know some other women for whom it was lower who decided against chemotherapy.

So I had chemo. No, I don’t regret it. I am fit and well with no sign of cancer at my last (and final) routine check up, and I had a clear mammogram last month.

Chemo is rough, there’s no getting away from it – though people’s individual reactions vary. But the stories of people dying from chemo rather than cancer are untrue.

Sometimes people get hold of ideas like that because with most cancers there are few ill effects if any until the cancer is quite advanced, and a person with an aggressive and advanced cancer usually looks, feels and behaves like a healthy person.

Then if they have chemotherapy side effects of the drugs can make them ill, sometimes very ill and frail, while treatment is taking place.

So some people conclude that the treatment is worse than the disease, and myths about people being killed by chemo bolster this belief.

It isn’t always effective. But in those cases it is the cancer, not the treatment, that kills the patient – they have died in spite of treatment, not because of it. Distressed relatives sometimes look for something or someone to blame, and some conclude that it was the treatment that killed the person.

With some types of chemotherapy, and in some cancers, there is a very slightly increased chance of developing a second type of cancer later.

Generally this is more likely to happen when the original cancer was a lymphoma, but it can happen very occasionally with other types of cancer.

Fortunately this very serious long-term effect is VERY RARE. But yes it happens, and yes very occasionally someone dies as a result.

There is more to my chemo story. I was scheduled to have 6 sessions; I made the decision to discontinue chemo for my breast cancer after the fourth of the six r sessions, because of the severe depression that was my main side effect. My breast care nurse was surprised – she had believed I would discontinue it after the first session, so great had been my anxiety and my resistance to having chemo.

My oncologist supported my decision to discontinue; he said that the depression might cause more harm than the chemo would do good. He was satisfied that I had had three months of aggressive chemotherapy, and mentioned that some cancer doctors feel four sessions is sufficient, with the final two being ‘belt and braces’.

I strongly recommend that your mum visits these two sites; as well as a lot of info on breast cancer, and professionals who can answer your questions, they both have forums where your mum (and you, both have a relative and friends forum) can talk to people who are or have been in the same situation as she is, or just read posts if she doesn’t want to contribute. I don’t know what I would have done without online support forums in those dark days following diagnosis.

My best wishes to your mum for her treatment – and to you; it’s very hard watching someone you love go through this.

Whether you agree or disagree, why not leave your own thoughts below.

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