The Toughest Decision I've Ever Made

The stories I heard and read about chemotherapy were the same; it does little else but kill. If not quickly, it would get you eventually. Survival rates after chemo, radiation and surgery were low; the cancer returned. So instead, I chose a targeted therapy. Since the cancer was hormone related, targeted therapy was an option for me.

Photo by  Alvin Mahmudov  on  Unsplash

With the approval of my integrative doctor, I started on a monoclonal antibody call Herceptin.  For 4 months, I saw my tumor markers drop by 25% with each infusion. But I started to experience extreme fatigue and intense pain and by that time, the tumor had gotten as big as a tennis ball.

The idea of chemotherapy was terrifying, it was the scariest thing I could ever do. To me, doing chemo meant I would weaken, suffer and die. That was my belief. I had learned about IPT, Insulin Potentiation Therapy, which uses insulin to lower blood sugar levels to weaken the cancer cells. Chemo would then be given at 1/10 of the dose, minimizing side effects like hair loss, nausea and a lowered immune system.

This sounded much smarter and appealing. The down side that it is very expensive and not covered by insurance. It would have to be out of pocket and I was already living off of my savings. I had told myself that if I were ever to turn to chemotherapy, I would use IPT. The day had finally come and I made an appointment to start treatment.

The nurse practitioner in charge of IPT explained she administered full-dose / regular chemo to patients for 12 years and now she was at the integrative center working with IPT. Regular chemotherapy is the kind that makes your hair fall out, makes you tired and nauseous—to me, it’s the kind that kills. She sat on a rolling stool and scooted herself directly in front of me, takes both of my hands into hers, looks me straight in the eyes and says: “I’ve reviewed your file. You need to do full dose chemo. You’re young and you can handle it. This cancer is very aggressive and you need something aggressive.”

I was shock and I was so scared. She was telling me to do something I was deathly afraid of; I believed for years would kill me. My eyes welled up and I sobbed, “Why can’t I do IPT?  Who does it work for then?”  She said, “It’s for old people who can’t handle full dose chemotherapy. You can bounce back from it. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be OK.”

This is not how I thought this visit would go. I was upset because I knew I could trust her advice. She had experience in the conventional AND the holistic medical world and she was turning down my business for IPT.  I knew what she was telling me was from experience and from her heart. This meant the everything to me because I was wary of every doctor I met along the way, questioning their approach and whether they stayed relevant with new research and how broad their knowledge of alternative therapies were.

After our appointment, I was still at the integrative center for IV therapy and ran into her in the halls twice.  Both times, she stopped to urge me to do chemotherapy. Chemo is a gamble and whether I survived or not, the after effects would lower my immune system. I would get weaker and I already wasn’t doing well but I knew I had to do it.

I had to start chemo soon, but I gave myself time to absorb it all. The next day, I stayed in bed all day, working to release my old beliefs about chemotherapy. I needed to get to a place of acceptance and embrace this new direction.  I reminded myself of the other stories I heard— cancer patients who had used conventional therapy and are still alive. Some did surgery, some did radiation, some did chemo; some did a combination of the three. By the afternoon, I made the calls and arrangements to start on this new path.

“The only way you can neutralize fear is to walk up to the thing you are afraid of.”
— Florence Scovel Shinn