Breast Cancer - Refusing Recommended Treatment

Updated on February 19, 2013
G.G. asks from New York, NY
16 answers

I know someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer last July. She was 45 years old at the time. She had a lumpectomy and was told by her surgeon that she should have radiation for sure and a short, light round of chemo "just to play it safe." She wasn't happy with that answer so she saw another doctor who reviewed her case and recommended the radiation and the same round of chemo. This was last September. She has not had any further treatment or follow up since the original surgery.

I'm not sure what stage the diagnosis was, but I think there was at least one lymph node removed. She was told by both doctors that she had an 85% chance of the cancer being completely cured if she followed both treatments (radiation and chemo). With just the radiation, it dropped down to 40%.

She seems to be someone who thinks that if she ignores something, it will go away. She has suffered with anxiety and depression in the past. She has two children - a young teen and a 20 year old. She is married, but I don't think her husband's opinion would play into her decision.

So my question is - have you ever known anyone who has decided against treatment like this and had a good outcome? I'm not close enough to her to influence her in any way and quite frankly, even those close to her would have a hard time convincing her of anything. I'm just wondering if anyone has heard of refusing treatment and having a good outcome, although I'm pretty sure I know what the answer is already.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

My grandmother took ONE chemo treatment for ovarian cancer, and decided that she would rather die than deal with the side effects from more treatments. She lived three more years before dying, not from cancer, but from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

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answers from Chicago on

Yes, I have heard of people refusing treatment. Outcome varies. Imo, you can't change this situation. If I got a cancer diagnosis, you couldn't pay me to do chemo, and I wouldn't want somebody nagging me about it. Whether or not she has a good outcome, you can't do anything about it. I hope you can get to where you feel peace about this. Bless you for caring!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I can imagine this is a deeply personal decision.
O., thank God, I have never had to make.

I have had people I've known stop treatment.
They felt that the teatment was worse than the disease.

I've seen people I have known pumped with so much chemo it was beyond comprehension. Killed by the heart, liver, lung damage.

I've heard advice from a top shelf nurse saying that sometimes, if surgery gets it all, and people stoll opt for the "preventative chemo," it can sometimes "stir it up" in other organs. And I've seen that happen.

Maybe she knows more than you think she knows.
Maybe she's just scared to face it.
Maybe she'll take the time she has as healthy as she can be.

Who knows? We're not her.
All the best to your friend.

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answers from Kansas City on

My mom didn't want to do the radiation, her grandmother died of the radiation treatments she was having for her uterine cancer. Granted, this was years and years ago, but that always stuck with her. So far, she's 3 years cancer free.

Of course, everyone's different, and you have to accept that it's her decision, not yours.

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answers from Redding on

I have known people who have refused cancer treatments, and sadly, they are not here today to give their opiions.

My dad got kidney cancer and did chemo, etc. He didn't have all the vomitting and other usual side affects. He just got really tired for a day or two afterwards.

He lived a lot longer than expected especially since the cancer ultimately spread to his lungs and other organs. Still, he fought to the very end.
He was in a strange situation given that his wife, (my step mother) was considered far more ill than him and was placed in Hospice care.
He had dreams of coming to California to be closer to me and my sister and his brother and other family. It's going to sound horrible, but his wife was released from Hospice and I believe that the stress of taking care of her 24 hours a day is what finally did him in. We couldn't even talk to him on the phone without her yelling for him to come and clean out her portable commode or getting her something. She didn't have cancer. She was older than my father.
My poor dad had little chance to take care of himself.

I truly think he just gave up because he was over it. He'd been married to my step-mother for over 20 years. He was devoted to her. When she went into Hospice, I think he was trying to prepare for life without her.
The exact opposite happened.

I, personally, would do anything possible to save my life.
However, Suzanne Sommers did alternative treatments and she's still here and well.

This is one of those things where you can't really judge how someone else handles it. Admittedly, you don't know her well. There's not much you can do.

People get to be in charge of their health decisions. They can't be forced to take treatments they don't want to. They'll survive or they won't. They understand the risks and they take their chances or they don't.

You haven't been in this person's shoes so you'll just have to respect her health decisions, even if you don't agree with them.

Just my opinion.

No offense to anyone.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

A woman at my church was diagnosed with breast cancer and refused all medical treatment. Instead, she completely adjusted her diet and began working out. She also did a lot of prayer and meditation, and some holistic treatment (the details of which I don't know). She has been cancer-free for several years now.

Having said that, I think her story is a very unusual one, and I think she knew she was making the riskier of two choices and weighed the consequences of not following the doctor's orders. She is also much older than your friend. To argue the other side, though, my SIL nearly died from adverse reactions to chemo. It is not a risk-free process by any means.

But yes, in answer to your question, I know someone who refused treatment and had a good outcome. I don't know what the statistics are for success in instances of refusing treatment, but I guess they aren't 0%. Some people do make it. If your friend is set against treatment, you might talk to her about researching diet and lifestyle changes. In the end, though, this is her decision.

All the best.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

There may be other factors she is considering, like how hard chemo and radiation are or were for someone she knows. Or maybe she got a third option. If you are not close to her, then you probably don't know everything and are not in a position to encourage her one way or another. We had a friend who thought he'd beaten Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma twice before another cancer popped up. He chose not to do more treatments because the side effects were terrible and he knew that no matter what he had a limited time left. We had to respect that. It has to be hard to know you're dying and do you want to fight and spend your last days sick or have fewer days but enjoy your time more? And even treatment is not 100%. I have a friend who is younger than me whose radiation treatments are not having the effect she was hoping for, and that's tough, too.

I wish her the best, but it doesn't sound good. :(

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answers from Boston on

It sounds like you don't know her well enough to know too much of anything - you don't really know what the precise diagnosis was (you said you're not sure, or exactly what was done surgically), and you only know the hearsay about what treatments were recommended.

So it seems to me that you also don't know what else she is doing. I know that chemo, radiation and surgery are the regimens you hear about a lot, but they are highly toxic and not always successful. We all know people who have gone into remission, but we also know people who have died from the treatments or who have had multiple cancers afterwards.

I work with a large group of professionals (including oncologists and nurses, nutritionists, consultants and more) that works all over the country (and beyond) with people who have cancer. Many of them choose some of the routes listed above, either individually or in combination. Others use alternative treatments, or nutritional support, either alone or in combination. There are extraordinary results and phenomenal scientific work being done with epigenetics, and amazing clinical studies being done through a consortium of research institutions, funding sources, and scientists. Some people use these instead of chemo or radiation, some of them use them to make the treatments less exhausting and toxic.

So you don't know what your acquaintance is doing, what scientists she is listening to, or what research she is using to help her make her decision. You may well be closing your own mind to the realities of scientific and nutritional research that could change your own life, let alone the lives of people around you.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My friend had breast cancer about 1.5 years ago at age 33. She opted for a double mastectomy at the time and is currently still in the reconstruction process. Despite doctor's recommendations for brief rounds of chemo and radiation, she opted against it.

Instead, she did a ton of research on her own and drastically changed her diet. She eats only organic foods, many of which are raw and nothing which is processed. It is FAR more involved and complicated than what I have just stated and in no way do I intend to say your friend should do what I said without massive research and much more information. In any case, it appears to have worked and she's feeling great.

I don't know anything about it, but I do know that at least part of her personal treatment regimen included this:

It requires a major life change, but your friend may be willing to do it. It's worth mentioning and helping her do her research if she's interested.

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answers from Washington DC on


Welcome to mamapedia!

She's an adult. She can make her own decisions. maybe she asked the hard questions about what the radiation and chemo would do to her quality of life and decided against it.

No one can force treatment on her. If her PCP doesn't think depression is keeping her from treatment - then she is living the way she wants to.

My next door neighbor had breast cancer. She had a mastectomy with no radiation and no chemo. She is in her 70's now. And has survived now for 6 years. They suggested radiation and chemo, she has a son who is disabled and would not have handled the decline in health. So they chose mastectomy and she's been fine. She never had reconstructive surgery either.

You can talk to your friend about your concerns. However, the bottom line is - it is HER CHOICE. As much as you don't agree with it, it's HER CHOICE.

Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

I know 1 person who only did part of their treatment plan who had a good outcome, out of about a dozen who didn't. But my girlfriend is a death & dying counselor (MSWlic), and about 1/3 of their patients discontinue treatment (usually because they can't work, so lose their insurance). Nearly all die. They see thousands every year.

There's always 1.

Or in this case 40:100

She may want to die (hefty life insurance that won't pay out with suicide, but that will pay out with cancer related deaths). Even neurotypical folk usually get clinically depressed with cancer. Those who are already depressed can get very suicidal. This could be her best solution. Win/win as it were. Win if she lived & win if she died.

Or she may be feeling invincible / beat the odds

Or she may have fallen prey to holistic vultures

Or she may have lost her health insurance (cancer treatments are often 6 figures).

Or she may "feel better now" and think she's fine because she doesn't feel sick

Or she may have crippling anxiety and be too afraid

Or she may not want to be sick during some important events

Or she may be trying to get pregnant or already be pregnant & wants to get to 34 weeks

Or, or, or.

Its her life. Respecting people's right to make their own decisions is one if the hardest things Ive ever come across.

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answers from Chicago on

I am sorry, but you said yourself you are not close enough to influence her, and this is none of your business - it's not YOUR life; it's HERS.

She has made her choice and there are people HER FAMILY could call OR may have already called to attempt a different outcome.

Bottom Line - support her or stop being her friend if you can not do so.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from El Paso on

Well, my grandmother had breast cancer and refused treatment. It eventually ended in her death. The DIFFERENCE is that she was 84 when she passed away. She had already lived a very full life, had 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. My grandfather had also died 9 years prior, so she didn't have to fight for his sake, either. She is VERY much missed, but she was ready to let go, and understandably so. I can't imagine being ready to quit at so young an age.

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answers from Lexington on

Yes! BUT, she didn't ignore it, she just went the route of non-pharmaceutical cures that have been documented to work. And, after the initial biopsy, she refused further surgery.

She used the green Paw Paw, although Essiac tea would have been another route, as would be Gerson Therapy, and numerous other proven therapies that do not include radiation, chemo or surgery.

Her oncologist has declared her cancer-free.

She chose the Paw-Paw because of a friend who was also cured of an aggressive, fast-growing cancer with that treatment.

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answers from New York on

Yes. One of my friends had breast cancer. She never told me if she had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, so I don't know which one she had and that can make a big difference. She decided to opt for some sort of "vitamin treatment." She goes to NY periodically and they inject her with a potent "vitamin coctail" through an IV. She said her only side effect has been getting very sleepy, but it's just for a little while. She's doing great. My sister went the traditional route. She had a mastectomy, because she was too afraid a lumpectomy would leave some behind. Then she had chemo, lost her hair, and got it back afterwards. She took tomoxophin to have her ovaries chemically killed rather than surgically removed. That was 20 yrs. ago and my sister now has lots of hair, is no longer taking tomoxophin, and is started to get her weight back down. (tomoxophin causes weight gain and don't let them tell you it doesn't) Keep in mind that it all depends on what type of cancer and how much they've actually got out and did it already travel through the lymph nodes. She really needs to do full research to find a treatment she feels is best for her, since not all treatments work for everyone. Depression is normal, she just needs some reasurance that she's beautiful and a strong fighter.



answers from Washington DC on

A woman at our pool was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. She refused medical treatment and thought if she prayed hard enough, God would save her. She died in the Fall.

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