Connie Johnson’s young children know that she’s sick but they don’t know she’s dying. Connie has breast cancer which has spread to her lungs, liver, pelvis, spine and knee. Back in February 2011, Connie’s doctors gave her six to 12 months to live. She’s outlived her prognosis but the outlook isn’t good. Connie is planning on giving her children more details when her health deteriorates further.
When her father Ding was ill, Wendy Wang acted as the translator between Ding and his doctor. The doctor told Wendy that Ding had pancreatic cancer and only had three months to live. Wendy chose to hide that information from her father. Wendy says that in Chinese culture, a terminal prognosis takes away the patient’s hope. Ding lived for another 15 months.
Penny Kelly’s oncologist has told her she most likely has two to eight months to live. She’s recently found out that her breast cancer has moved to her brain and she’s decided to stop treatment. Penny thinks it’s important to know her prognosis so that she and her family can prepare for her death.
Astley believes doctors should not give a timeframe on life expectancy as it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Five years ago, a doctor told him he would die from metastatic melanoma. Astley reacted angrily and rebelled against the doctors. He believes prognoses are not reliable as they are based on averages.
Associate Professor Richard Chye is the Palliative Care Director of the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service. He sometimes sees cases like Wendy Wang’s, where the children want to hide their parent’s prognosis from them. He says it’s a myth that if you give a patient a terminal prognosis they will give up hope and die sooner.
Professor Allan Spigelman is a surgical oncologist and director of cancer services at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. He says he doesn’t give patients a specific timeframe for how long they’re likely to live as every patient is different and it’s hard to be accurate. He says it’s not appropriate to have a family member serve as an interpreter.