Ask Surly Amy: Cancer and Alt-Med
Dear Surly Amy,
I have a friend who was diagnosed with testicular cancer about a year ago. It was caught a bit late, but he still had a chance of fighting it. However, he decided to go an alt-med approach rather than using solid medical treatments. I have had him speak with an oncology nurse, who recommended that he speak with an oncologist and seek normal medical treatment, and I have tried to urge him to seek help from an oncologist. However, he seems bent on his “natural treatments”, and he seems to be getting worse. At this point, I’m wondering if there’s anything that I could try to do to convince him to seek better care. He is aware that his chosen method may not work for him, and I suspect that if I hammer on the point, he’s likely to simply stop listening. Any ideas?
This is so tragic that I am almost at a loss for words. And I really want to open this up for the entire skeptical community to weigh in on.
We often need and hope to sway people before they get into this situation.
My simple advice is to try to be a good friend and to be understanding while at the same time continuing to enforce the absolute necessity of seeking legitimate care. Perhaps you can sway your friend to seek medical attention with the knowledge that they may be able to continue some of their alternative remedies while under the supervision and treatment of an actual MD. Tell him it is better to be safe than sorry and remind him that this is a life or death situation.
Ask him questions about the treatment he is using. How does it work exactly? What is the mechanism that heals? How do you objectively quantify the healing? Ask questions that may get him thinking on his own about treatments. Explain how actual science-based cancer treatments work. Science Based Medicine blog is an excellent resource if you are in need of trustworthy information to pass along. I have found in my experience that you often can not change a person’s mind about something on the spot or face to face, but if you can convince them to think about the fallacies associated with their idea you can often get them to change their minds later on their own. Sadly, in this case you are really running against the clock.
This is an extremely difficult situation to be in. It’s very true that, good intentions or not, if you push a person too hard they will simply shut you out.
If he does not follow your advice, I still recommend trying to be there for him as a friend. In situations such as these, sometimes that’s the best we can do.
If anyone else has dealt with this, or has any good ideas to help in a situation like this, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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