In seeking the professional advice of a physician, patients typically experience certain levels of anxiety and emotional distress. And although any diagnosis can be cause for worry, none is more feared than a cancer prognosis.

Cancer remains to be one of the most difficult diagnoses to accept for any patient,” Dr. Meredith Garcia-Trinidad, medical oncologist at Blessed Family Doctors General Hospital and Dagupan Doctors Villaflor Memorial Hospital, told MIMS in an interview.

She said that many cancer patients tend to generalise or compare themselves with other cancer patients who might not have fared very well while fighting the disease. And while media helps raise general awareness of the disease, its portrayal of cancer—in most instances—only add up to the notion that all cancer diagnoses are terminal.

“Advanced cancer may be more difficult to treat and can lead to death when it spreads, but many advances have already been made in the field of cancer prevention, screening, and therapy that have led to improved survival rates in many types of malignancies,” Dr. Garcia-Trinidad clarifies

"However, not everyone is aware of this fact, especially in less developed countries such as the Philippines. Many citizens still have poor access to healthcare, which makes these improvements less tangible.”

Helping patients regain strength

“As an oncologist, it is part of my job to help cancer patients cope with their illness. This includes providing and giving recommendations on treatment options available to them,” Dr. Garcia-Trinidad explained. “I make it a point to discuss all available treatment options from the start so that they will be aware early on that there can be a plan B should the initial treatment outcome be unfavourable.”

In case the first prescribed treatment course does not work, Dr. Garcia-Trinidad helps her patients regain hope by explaining to them that “each tumour is different, every patient is unique, and every drug is different.”

“I tell them this very fact makes treatment response partially dependent on the ensuing interaction between their bodies and the treatments given to them. And that if the first treatment option did not work that well, it does not mean that nothing else is going to work so we can still give the next drug in line a try.”

Patients opting for preferred treatment option

There are known cases of cancer patients opting for unconventional treatment courses to help them fight cancer—one of the most prominent being Apple Inc. co-founder, Steve Jobs, who chose to fight cancer with alternative medicine.

In such instances, Dr. Garcia-Trinidad stressed the importance of educating patients on conventional treatment options without sounding disrespectful and judgmental.

“I discuss with them the science behind what we do, how the conventional treatment options that we offer are rigorously tested for efficacy and safety in clinical trials, and how they undergo numerous steps before being approved for use,” Dr. Garcia-Trinidad explained.

She said that it helps to understand the patient’s reasons for choosing alternative treatment courses in order to avoid attacking their personal beliefs, or disregarding some relatable experiences that may be difficult to contend with.

“Ultimately, the final choice still rests on the patient as an autonomous human being, which is something for us to respect.”

Managing patients’ emotional distress

“Good patient and caregiver counselling is an integral aspect in the effective management of patients dealing with cancer as it can be draining physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,” said Dr. Garcia-Trinidad.

She notes the value of empathy in helping patients cope with whatever life changes that may be brought about by their illness.

“It is also imperative that the patient’s family, and caregivers, learn to adjust to their situation so we give them advice on how they can better support and take care of their afflicted family member.”

Dr. Garcia-Trinidad then referenced to an adage by Dr. Edward Trudeau, “To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.”

“We may not always be able to cure everyone, but we do not take away their hope and instead help redirect their hope toward new goals at every stage of their cancer journey.” MIMS

Read more:
How to deal with patients who consult 'Dr Google'
‘Pharma zones’ to make high-end healthcare products accessible and affordable to Filipinos
Speaking of Public Health… Dr Gia Sison talks about the healthcare causes she supports