I wish that as an oncologist I could see off quackery through good communication. Unfortunately that doesn’t work
Wed 13 Feb 2019
“Tell me why I should have your chemotherapy when I can be healed naturally!”
His face is set, his arms defensively squared. His friend carries a pamphlet that features a suspiciously healthy woman with glamorous hair and a glowing complexion. This is the urgent appointment of the day, for whom other patients were hastily shuffled to make room.
I know I shouldn’t take the bait but, like an addict, I have the urge to say:
Go ahead then, be healed. And I will almost certainly see you again, emaciated, ruined, lamenting the fact that it’s too late.
Thankfully, the code of conduct glides in. I imagine his dread. I remember my position. And I say: “Tell me more.”
I hear about the man who uses waves, the woman who boosts immunity and the seller of pure herbs. They are the healers – 100% convincing, 100% certified by a gaggle of secret Facebook users.
He asks: “What’s the guarantee of your chemo, anyway?”
I have perfected my retort during sleepless nights.
In life there are no guarantees but you have a curable cancer. Yes, there will be side effects but we can manage them. No, I can’t guarantee a cure, but I’d recommend evidence-based treatment any day over the magnet that purportedly draws out cancer cells. And while we are there, it’s not my chemotherapy. Your taxes fund my job but I don’t profit from giving you chemo.
But how many times have I heard that if oncologists hectored a little less and listened a little more, we might win more hearts?
So I bite my tongue again, thinking of the alarmed nurse who begged me to change his mind. As I talk him through his various options from least to most intensive, I remember the patient who swapped chemotherapy for essential oils, the one who chose to “burn” the tumour out and the one who suggested I become a sales representative for a life-saving juice.