Guest Editor | What patients are doing wrong
Delays in accessing and completing their course of treatment top the list of things patients normally do wrong after they have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dr Lindberg Simpson, consultant general and minimal-invasive surgeon, told The Gleaner that based on his observations, patients can play a greater role in ensuring that they have a better quality of life.
"The most common mistakes patients make are related to delays in diagnosis or treatment or not completing treatment. Being in denial about the diagnosis is a very common reaction. Even when there is obvious evidence of change in their bodies, patients sometimes don't want to face the reality. We have to understand, however, that once there is a prompt diagnosis and timely treatment, you significantly increase survival and quality of life. Persons who delay diagnosis and/or treatment, tend to have limited treatment options, poor quality of life, and decreased survival," he said.
"Additionally, some patients begin chemotherapy or radiotherapy but may have an adverse reaction at some point and decide they will not complete the full course. However, with both chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the dosage is calculated based on your completing the course of treatment. So if the patient stops in the middle, they may not get the full benefit," he said.
Better diet doesn't mean healing
Simpson, who is the chair of surgery at the Kingston Public Hospital, also said that even when persons have employed better lifestyle practices, that should not be seen as an indicator that they are completely healed.
"Changing your diet is helpful. Patients often eat healthier foods, pay attention to food portions, and start exercising after they have received an unwanted diagnosis. This usually helps them to feel more energetic and may help to boost their immune system, so, initially, they start feeling better. This should not be interpreted, however, as the cancer going away. What often happens is that within a few months to a year later, the evidence of the cancer will once again become obvious," he said.
No pain doesn't mean everything is OK
"There are other persons who might seek advice from friends, or sometimes friends give unsolicited advice. While these persons may mean well, it is best to discuss whatever information they give with your physician, who knows the details of your condition," Dr Lindberg Simpson said. "One common misconception is that if there is no pain, then everything is OK. Additionally, some persons may seek the intervention of a church elder or minister to pray on their behalf. While this is helpful, it should not replace conventional treatment. Even the advice of friends who may be doctors or nurses may not apply to your situation," he said.
Dr Guyan Arscott, renowned plastic surgeon, shared similar observations, saying that he has encountered three common reactions.
"Almost a third will be shattered by the diagnosis and the cancer stands out like an elephant. Another percentage is usually worried about what the procedure entails because it's not only going to involve medicines and surgeries, but it's going to affect their image. The other group is desperately worried about surgery and chemotherapy, so you might have a percentage that goes into denial," Arscott told The Gleaner.
"They (patients in denial) end up not going through the next step of getting treatment and then having been told what the treatment entails, find a lot of alternative routes, non-medical advice, family members and friends. Fortunately, it's a small percentage."