Waging Peace Not War On Cancer

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Every week JAMA has an article written by physicians expressing their experiences in life. This last week article, written by Thomas Edes, MD, I thought was unusually good. It relates the story of Bonnie, a woman with cancer who initially approached it with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. She endured the countless prolonged visits to clinics, the long nights of retching, the long months of weakness, and the losses of hair, of weight, of vigor, and time. Two years later the cancer had returned- with a vengeance. Bonnie decided she did not want to trade in any of her good days for some chance of more days by going through rescue chemotherapy. Her oncologist responded, Well, if you just want to die, you might as well commit suicide. Bonnie was shocked. But then she realized that this may be simply a starkly honest expression of a prevalent perspective that when one is faced with cancer, the valiant action is to fight. After all we are at war with cancer. Bonnie realized that when you are personally waging the war on cancer, your time and energy are diverted to the war, and away from the things you love. This time around Bonnie decided to accept the cancer rather than to fight it. She found amazing strength and peace. She is eagerly awaiting news about her grandchildren, not about her laboratory results. She is focused on the daily routines of her loved ones, not on a clinic schedule. She is planning for a child’s birthday, not for a treatment regimen. She is living in joy of every day, not in fear of the next sign. She is pursuing what she loves, not the enemy in her bones. She is at peace, not at war. Each of us may one day be faced with the diagnosis of cancer and will need to decide whether we will wage war with it or peace. Either choice will take courage and deserves respect. Terry Pfau DO, HMD