In your battle against breast cancer, your oncologist may try many different treatments. For some, the different chemotherapy treatments may not kill the cancer cells, or the cells may return after a remission. When cancer reaches this stage, it’s usually called advanced or terminal.
Deciding what to do if this happens is tough. Your oncologist might suggest new options with different combinations of chemotherapy drugs. Still, you and your oncologist must consider whether more treatment will improve your health, or whether it’s best to stop treatment altogether.
Making a Decision
Many patients who face this point in their treatment have to consider if continuing chemotherapy for as long as possible will change their chances for survival. While your oncologist may be able to tell you the odds or chances of a new therapy working, this is just an estimate. No one can tell for sure how it will affect you.
It’s normal to feel obligated to try every possible treatment. But when the treatment isn’t working, the toll on your physical and emotional health can be exhausting for both you and your loved ones.
To help make your decision on when to stop chemotherapy, ask your oncologist these questions:
- Will continuing treatment make a significant difference in my cancer growth?
- Does it matter if I stop chemotherapy now or several months from now?
- If I stop treatment, will my symptoms like pain and nausea go away?
- Will stopping chemotherapy mean I stop seeing you and your team altogether?
- Will my health insurance continue to cover any other care I need besides chemotherapy?
Being open and honest with your oncology team is very important during this time. Be sure your treatment team knows your wishes. Also, be clear on what you need in the coming weeks and months. Discuss any physical symptoms you’re having as well as any emotions that are troubling you. Your oncologist might suggest you speak with a social worker or attend a support group with other patients who are facing similar decisions.
Accepting that you may have reached the limit in your care can cause more anger, sadness, and feelings of loss. Use this time to discuss your wishes with your family and friends. Think about how you want to spend time with them. Some patients decide that finishing lifelong goals or taking an overdue vacation is time better spent than coping with more chemotherapy treatments.
Care After Chemotherapy Stops
If you decide to stop chemotherapy, be sure you’re getting relief from your symptoms including pain, constipation, and nausea. This is called palliative care, and it’s meant to improve your quality of life. Medications and other treatments, like radiation, are part of palliative care.
You and your caregivers should talk with your oncologist about your needs in the upcoming months. You may decide to have a nurse come to your home for weekly care visits.
Stopping treatment isn’t easy. And talking about it with your healthcare team and your loved ones can be difficult. Still, it’s important to make your wishes about end of life care clear. This conversation can put your own mind at ease, and relieve your loved ones of trying to guess your intentions. Ask your oncology social worker for help in making your plans.