A few thoughts on unsolicited medical advice

I’ve met some incredible people throughout my life, particularly within the cancer community. One thing I’m fairly certain most cancer patients have in common is that we strongly dislike unsolicited medical advice.

Before you continue reading, please know that this post isn’t meant to offend. When someone offers me advice, I know they mean well and are only trying to help. The good intentions are always appreciated!  However, like most cancer patients, I work closely with my oncologist to follow a treatment plan developed specifically for my tumor and it can be frustrating when someone expects me to try an unrealistic “cure”. Here’s a sampling of some of the unsolicited medical advice I’ve received over the past couple of years, that hasn’t exactly been helpful:

“Did you know Smartwater cures cancer?”  I call BS.  I love Smartwater – it’s my preferred brand. However, I drank it before my diagnosis, I’m drinking it now – and a high-grade glioma is still comfortably hanging out in my right frontal lobe. If Smartwater cured cancer, I’d have bought stock in it long ago.

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“Are you sure you need radiation? It’s SO bad for you.” Trust me, I know that shooting radiation beams directly at my brain probably isn’t good for it. But neither is a high-grade glioma that causes memory loss, speech impairment, migraines, nausea, fatigue…the list goes on and on. I’ve already discussed the pros and cons with specialists, and inserting your opinions once I’ve already made an informed decision doesn’t add any value.

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“Do you eat kelp? I heard it prevents cancer”.  Unfortunately no, I never made a point to eat seaweed. Although some people enjoy it and it does have some health benefits, there is no correlation between kelp eaters and being cancer-free. I’ll stick to foods I enjoy, thanks!

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“Did you get a second opinion? I have a friend who lives on the same floor of a really good specialist…” I spent weeks getting second, third and fourth opinions. I went to Dana-Farber, Tufts, and Brigham & Women’s for consults before meeting my oncologist at MGH. It’s a stressful time post-diagnosis for cancer patients and their families as they try to navigate different treatment options. If someone has already chosen a doctor and a course of action, it’s (usually) best to avoid this topic.

“You should try this clinical trial I found.” Bottom line, if there is a clinical trial that I qualify for and should enroll in, I’ve already heard about it from my oncologist. There are many reasons why cancer patients aren’t enrolled in clinical trials, and the reasons vary. They may not qualify for reasons unknown to you, or they simply may not want to feel like a guinea pig. This is a really sensitive and personal topic to many, so it’s best to just avoid going there at all.

Have you ever received strange and/or unsolicited medical advice? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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