Worried a sick friend needs medical help?

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Question from Website Question: My friend has breast cancer. She doesn't want surgery, and the wound smells bad and it's oozing. How can I help her? Is there a chance that she will be healed without the breast being removed? I am so worried.
Answers - Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. This is a very difficult situation. We all think we know what's right for somebody else, and the frustrating part is we cannot get another adult to behave the way we think they should. I've seen a situation like that at the hospital, and the best approach seemed to be to let up on the pressure on the woman patient and her family. I had to let her know that I was there for her and her loved ones and that I would be there to answer their questions, address their anxieties, and assure them that the decisions were totally up to them. And often, when we removed that pressure and stepped back, it somehow gave the woman permission to move. Nobody was going to do anything for her; she had to do it for herself. At our hospital, more often than not, we saw the patient come around and get the help she needed with her serious medical problem.

Unfortunately, that may not be true in all cases.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. As a physician, if I hear someone describe a discharge that has a bad odor to it, I become concerned about a possible infection. That's the kind of situation that needs immediate medical attention, for example, a course of antibiotics. Sometimes, if a cancer grows to a significant size and breaks through the skin, it can give off fluid that has a bad smell to it and also causes bleeding. This is another important reason for a person who is having this problem to see her doctor at once. A person's smell may change during chemotherapy, however. You may also notice that your partner's skin, hair, and breasts smell different. That might just be a normal temporary side effect of chemotherapy that will likely go away once she has completed her treatment.
Marc Silver I have also run across this situation. I know sometimes a husband will feel his wife doesn't want to seek treatment or continue chemotherapy because she can't stand the side effects. I second what Roz has said — you can't assume as the husband that you can make decisions for your wife, but you could tell her how concerned you are and that you hope she seeks treatment from an appropriate doctor.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Family and Loved Ones featured Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W., author Marc Silver, and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about the issues surrounding family members and caregivers living with and caring for women affected by breast cancer.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in September 2004.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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