I am an Integrative Medicine physician. I see each patient as a unique individual, and I come up with a plan to help him or her to heal. In order to tailor a plan to each patient, I utilize both complimentary (herbs, acupuncture, energy medicine, etc.) and conventional medicine. Unfortunately, some patients come to me thinking that I am only going to use a natural approach to their care. However, there are certain illnesses that do not respond to herbal remedies and lifestyle changes alone. Cancer is a good example.
We have made amazing strides with chemotherapeutic agents and early diagnostic techniques such as colonoscopy and mammography. A recent study found that for men and women between the ages of 50 to 64 diagnosed with cancer, the risk of dying within 5 years was 39 to 68 percent lower than for people the same age diagnosed between 1990 and 1994. Hodgkin’s Disease is almost always curable these days thanks to the chemotherapeutic regimen designed by Dr. Vince DeVita. Breast cancer is no longer a deadly disease, and there are many more cancers that are now survivable due to effective medical treatments. There are alternative approaches that do not cure cancer on their own but can augment therapy. Diet, exercise, acupuncture and certain supplements such as medicinal mushrooms and melatonin can be extremely helpful.
I am writing about this now, because I have had several patients recently who I have diagnosed with a variety of cancers, which have been potentially treatable. Some suspected cancers I tried to diagnose early, but the patients refused due to the expense of testing. Unfortunately, a late diagnosis has resulted in cancers that can now only be contained for a short while. They were potentially curable early on. Others are dying of diseases that they could have easily survived with proper treatment.
I am not sure if I am seeing a trend, or if this is an unusual set of people who have such a strong distrust of the conventional medical complex that they are allowing fear and suspicion to cloud logic. I understand that money can be an issue, but what good does it do to save money by not doing testing when the risk is not being around to spend it anyway?
People should definitely be allowed to choose what treatments and type of testing they do or do not want. Autonomy as a patient is very important. However, I see an increasing level of cynicism and suspicion in patients who look at the medical field and feel as though they are not getting the whole story.
My patients who are refusing treatment point to others who they watched being tortured with radiation and chemotherapy many years ago. They also quote discussion sites on the Internet where people claim to be cured by all kinds of odd remedies. I have tried to explain that although treatment is not exactly a walk in the park, there are now many ways that patients can be helped so that it is not as painful or disabling.
I am hoping that those of us in the medical field can do a better job to allay the fears of patients who are refusing treatment, and I am hopeful that no one should have to delay essential diagnostic testing due to financial concerns as insurance issues are worked out in the future. I also suggest that patients read information from trusted medical sources such as Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic and Harvard, and that they have a little more faith in the health professionals in their community.
I suggest they search out second opinions, talk to former patients, and do whatever it takes to feel comfortable with their care. A holistic approach to healing is great, but it should be based on good information. It is hard for me to watch people refuse care and die of treatable diseases. On the other hand, it is something that has helped me to understand that patients will choose their own road to follow, and as hard as it is, I must respect that.