Monday, March 28, 2016

Advice carries perils, Guardian writer warns

Don't tell cancer patients how to cure themselves, cautions prize-winning journalist

Steven W. Thrasher

It's dangerous to tell cancer patients what they could be doing to cure themselves.

At least that's what Steven W. Thrasher wrote recently in an opinion piece in The Guardian.

Thrasher, an award-winning print, digital and radio journalist, believes recommending pseudo-scientific treatments (or homeopathic remedies) is one of the worst things you can do to relatives, friends or co-workers.

He suggests that falls into the abyss of taking your own mortality fears out on cancer patients.

Thrasher starts off by giving the example that "if you're a religious person, for the love of God, don't tell someone with cancer that if they'd just drink juice (or take vitamin, or pray or have a 'positive attitude') that they could cure themselves."

And he immediately follows up with, "And if you're not a religious person, for the love of reason and decency, don't tell someone with cancer any of these things, either."

Thrasher notes that his sister died after having lived with a rare type of sarcoma tissue cancer for 15 years — and his having watched people tell her (and him) "that she could cure herself…if she were only willing to take vitamins, or eat raw food, or do yoga or look on the bright side of things" — none of which, he adds, "have been validated by peer-reviewed science" or are true.

Any more than suggestions that folks should eat raw calf liver or "shove coffee grounds into their rectums."

Advice like that, he insists, is (a) condescending, (b) "a sneaky and harmful way of dealing with your own fear of death," and (c) "blames the sick person for your discomfort with their reality."

He quotes comedian George Carlin's line that "if you want to do something to help someone in distress…unplug their clogged toilet or paint the garage."

More seriously, he says that telling cancer patients "they've missed a simplistic way they could have avoided their fate further isolates and shuns them."

"Trust yourself to love them," he concludes, "in the condition they're in, instead of ignorantly and egotistically giving useless advice that won't ultimately change their prognosis."

Tips on how to be a real help — based on real experience — can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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