The three of them sat in the backyard – no one said a word. Emily stared down at the overgrown grass with the big bald spot where the swimming pool usually sat. They turned toward the driveway when they heard the car pull in. When the people inside stepped out the trio could tell from the expressions on their faces that this was not good news.
It was official: her grandmother had renal cell, or kidney, cancer. She had two large tumors and treatment needed to be started immediately if there was any hope of her getting better. She would start radiation as soon as possible.
“That was the worst day of my life and one I will never forget as long as I live,” said Emily.
Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are three types of aggressive, often unnecessary, cancer treatments. According to the book “Questioning Chemotherapy”, chemotherapy is only effective on two to four percent of all forms of cancer. And according to a New England medical journal published in 1996, children with Hodgkin’s lymphoma are more likely to develop leukemia and breast cancer later in life when treated with chemotherapy. And 25 percent of all cancer treatments are not meant to cure cancer, only to give someone a little more time, which most of the time only adds a couple months at most and lessens the quality of life.
I’m not saying that all cancer treatments are bad. There are plenty of people who undergo chemo or radiation and become cured. However, I think it is ridiculous when they do something that doesn’t work and not only does the patient not get better, but they get worse and the doctors answer is to give them some other, equally horrible treatment in the hopes that it might work, but most of the time it doesn’t.
The side effects of aggressive cancer treatments are horrendous. They include: hair loss, nausea, vomiting, infertility, mouth sores, rash, lack of appetite, sleep disorders, and delirium. Who wants to live like that?
After a round of radiation and surgery to remove a portion of her kidney, my grandmother’s tumors shrank and stopped growing. She was put on a treatment shot that was administered at home in the hopes that they would disappear completely. It worked for a while, but then the cancer came back worse than before. She had developed a tumor in her arm that caused the bone to deteriorate and snap when she was trying to make a sandwich.
She was put in the hospital and laid there in pain for days before she was finally able to have surgery on her arm. After that was done the doctors decided she needed to go through another round of radiation. She spent several months in the hospital and it became clear that the radiation was not helping. The doctors suggested other treatments, but the cancer had metastasized throughout most of her body and there was little hope that she would ever be cured.
My grandmother put her foot down. She was going to go home and spend the rest of her days surrounded by her family. But by then it was too late, the treatments had taken a toll on her body and she was a mere shell of the woman that we all knew and loved. She laid in the special hospital bed in the backroom sleeping most of the time. If you were lucky she would wake up and acknowledge your presence when you came to visit her, but it was just as likely she wouldn’t.
By that time it was impossible for her to keep anything down so the people from hospice care center told us not to feed her. It was horrible watching her slowly waste away until one day, she was gone. As much as it hurt, it was almost a relief because I knew that she was no longer suffering.
Aggressive cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy are often pointless during the late stages of cancer. All they do is decrease the quality of life of the patient and rarely are they successful.
I believe we need to set up a system in the United States so cancer patients are told all of their options, not just the ones doctors want them to hear. Looking back now, I can honestly say I would have never wanted my grandmother to go through the second round of radiation if I had known what effect it would have on her. I realize that she probably wouldn’t have had as much time as she did, but at least her last days would have been spent being happy, instead of being miserable