Hard Questions

Doctor, will you please lie to me?


“Doctor, I have a question for you.”


“Have you ever had a patient – I mean, someone like me, someone in my ... state ... get cured without any treatment?”

Mr. B thought he felt too well to have an aggressive cancer infiltrating his liver, abdominal wall, and lungs. He lived an active life, going to church, volunteering, and playing with his grandchildren. But the biopsy results were back. It wasn’t an infection. It wasn’t inflammation. It was stage 4 cancer.

And just like that, his life changed.

His prognosis was likely months, with a best case scenario of several years. But gone were the days of thinking 10, 20, and 30 years ahead.

Dr. Ilana Yurkiewicz is a fellow at Stanford (Calif.) University.

Dr. Ilana Yurkiewicz

Mr. B was a spiritual person. He told me this was God’s plan for him. He trusted God to get him through this, so he would not need chemotherapy.

Looking for hope in the face of terrible news is a common reaction. It’s natural. We tend to be optimists, and we look for a silver lining. We look for the “but.”

Patients and doctors alike do this.

“The cancer is metastatic ... but we have chemotherapy that can slow it down.”

“The doctor told me the median survival is 3 months ... but I plan to beat those odds.”

“Your mother is dying ... but we have good medicines to make her comfortable.”


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