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Posts: 2
Joined: Mar 2004

Hello, all. I'm new to the group. I'm acting as caregiver to my sister, age 62, who was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in late October 2003, Stage IV with mets to the lungs, spine and possibly the femurs. She also has significant lymphedema in her right arm. We seem to be getting contradictory advice about whether she should have surgery on her back to stabilize the spine. Her neurosurgeon in saying he really doesn't recommend it unless her life expectancy suggests it will be worth the post-operative pain, and the long recovery a back fusion takes. Her oncologist is encouraging it, yet he is also saying her treatment is focused on extending life and alleviating symptopms, not cure or even significant remission. Has anyone else faced a similar dilemma? There are many other issues, but this is one of the toughest right now.

Posts: 4
Joined: Mar 2004

Hi. I have three loved ones that have dealt with cancer. Each one was a different type, with different cercumstance. The first thing I want to tell you is that if she is capable of making decisions, your sister is the one who ultimately needs to make the decision, and no matter what she wants, you need to support her decision. In my dad's case, age 81 with bladder cancer, he opted not to have surgery to remove his bladder. His reasoning is simple. There is no guarantee that it will cure him, and his health is such, that the time that may be given to him by having it, is not quality time. Too much of what time is left would be spent in pain, and recovery from surgery.
I would first ask the doctor how much more time the surgery would provider her. If it's a short time, then why have her spend it in any more discomfort than she already has. If it can give her several years (not just a few), than it may be worth it to her. Spine surgery takes a very long time for a normally healthy person to heal, and will no doubt be more difficult for her, due to the extent of her cancer.
My sister and I went with my dad to all his doctor appointments. We asked alot of questions, including what alternative treatments were available (such as chemo and radiation),and if they would have any positive effect. We were told that due to his deteriorating health, even if he was strong enough to survive the treatments, the time it would afford him would spent in extreme discomfort. My dad chose to do nothing more. And as painful as it is to know that we may not have him with us much longer, we respect that decision. We make sure that every day of whatever time he has left, he knows that he is very loved and we assist him in any way we can. That is the best and only thing we can do.

Posts: 1
Joined: Mar 2004

I had back surgery many years ago. In my case it was a long recovery. One of the questions you might want to ask is about the quality of life. I know that sounds somewhat heartless, but ... well, I had liver cancer 22 months ago and am now undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and quality of life is important. If recovery is expected to extend beyond life expectency, why put her through the added pain? Because we can does not always mean we should.

What does your sister think about the back surgery? If she is game to go through it, knowing everything it means, then go for it! Get all the important info you can...I saw many doctors before deciding on the back surgery. The info was conflicting, and I made the best decision I could at the time. Turned out well in my case, but that is primarily because I did all the research possible and demanded answers to questions. We have that right you know - to have our questions answered, even when the best a doctor can do is give a "best guess." I loved knowing that they didn't have perfect answers - it was frustrating, but it also meant they weren't bullshitting, either. I actually chose the doctor who admitted he didn't have all the answers tucked up his sleeve - it made him chase the answers!

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