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Thread: Can you refuse chemotherapy, before finishing treatment?

  1. #1

    Can you refuse chemotherapy, before finishing treatment?

    Hello all -

    Wondering if anyone knows if you can refuse to finish chemotherapy, after starting treatment? If so, what happens? How long does it take before you start to feel better?

    Here's the reason I'm asking.....sorry for the novel, and thank you to anyone reading.

    My mother is 62 years-old. She's been very ill for the past 8 months. In April of '09 she had a stroke. Shortly thereafter, she began getting really sick... vomiting regularly paired with overwhelming weakness. After being misdiagnosed at first, we finally learned a week and 1/2 ago that she has cancer. They're not sure exactly of the origin..... they're speculating ovarian cancer, metastatic to the liver. Or possibly vise versa. There are two tumors on and near her liver and spleen. I asked the doctor "is this stage IV cancer, then?" To which the doctor responded, "yes". They don't want to operate, as they say she isn't in good enough condition. She has pretty bad COPD, her oxygen levels are really low, and she is still very weak. Plus the tumors appear to be too large to operate at this point. They said she needs to do chemotherapy first to shrink the tumors, and see how she responds to it....then decide if she would be eligible for surgery, and potentially further chemotherapy. They said to prepare for 6 months of chemotherapy at least.

    (This is confusing to me though, because I thought that once you're at stage 4 - they would just focus on palliative therapy?)

    Anyway, this all happened so fast. The day after she was discharged from the hospital, they wanted her to start chemo. I was very hesitant and scared about it..... my brothers weren't sure how they felt. And my mom didn't even have time for it to register. About my mom: she is only 62 years-old, but unfortunately she is much 'older' than that, so to speak. She's had a very strenuous, difficult life....she has struggled with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and has had difficulty caring for herself most of her life. She looks much older than she is...probably by 10 years. The "mother-daughter" roles reversed long ago for us, and I've been the one to try and help/coach her as much as I can, the past several years. She doesn't have a spouse, no grandchildren that she's close to... and limited friends.

    Despite her troubles, I never thought she'd get cancer, and I never dreamed I'd watch someone I love go through this whole process. She only just started her first chemotherapy treatment on Thursday and I've been dreading it. The side effects have now kicked in as of today and she's suffering. It hasn't even been a day, and I'm so sick to my stomach watching her suffer. She just doesn't deserve this, given what she has already had to deal with in her life. I just would so much rather her live 6 months comfortably then go through this he11 for 6 months or more... only to get a year back, before the cancer returns. I have to have a talk with her to remind her that this is her body, and she has every right to do what she wants to do....and we will be her biggest supporters every step of the way. This is just really hard.

    I'm just wondering if anyone has been in a similar situation? And has anyone changed their mind about chemo once they already started treatments? What happens if you decide you don't want to finish?

    Thank you so much for any thoughts.

  2. #2
    Administrator Top User brainman's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
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    Hi WishingWell, I am so sorry about your mother's advanced cancer. Of course she can refuse treatments of any kind no matter when. However, I personally would only do it after thoroughly talking about the issue with my medical team. When I was first diagnosed, in consultation with my own medical team, I opted not to have surgery or radiation. I decided to try chemo first with close monitoring. That was the best of me at that time.

    What will happen is a great unknown. It very much depends on the exact cell type, size, location, and her overall health. That is a big issue she should be clear about with input from her doctors. Again, in my case, surgery and/or radiation put me at a significant risk of loosing some functions. My mother who also had cancer and other major health issues opted not to have any form of treatment. It was a very large brain cancer... the most aggressive kind. She died 2 months after her official diagnosis. Rather than spending those month in suffering, we were able to enjoy her life till the end.

    I will be praying for you and your mother as she makes her decision.
    Long-term cancer survivor
    1992 Astrocytoma grade 2, left motor strip
    2005 Recurrence this time said to be an Oligodendroglioma grade 3, same location.
    My Story Part 1: http://cancerforums.net/viewtopic.php?t=2528
    My Story Part 2: http://cancerforums.net/viewtopic.php?p=7350
    My Story Part 3: http://cancerforums.net/viewtopic.php?t=8029

  3. #3
    Thank you for your response, brainman. Glad to know we have options. And I'm so sorry for the sudden loss of your mother... how difficult. But glad she wasn't suffering in any way. I hope for a similar outcome for my mother.

    My mother just went back in the hospital to have more fluid drained... and they've decided to keep her a few days. She lives alone in a second-floor apartment and is now too weak to deal with the stairs. They're considering sending her to rehab, but that means they have to stop the chemo treatment temporarily until she gets out.

    I'm trying to see if there's any options for in-patient chemotherapy treatments. She really needs to be in a nursing home or hospital while on chemo, as she's too ill to care for herself.


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