The exact figures are different for different cancers, but they all tend the same way. The outlook is best if it is confined to the organ it started in. It is less good if it has spread to the nearest lymph glands. It is even less good if it has spread into adjacent tissues. It is worst of all if it has spread through the blood, in which case hopefully an operation aiming at cure would not have been attempted. Ask your surgeon for the figures which apply in your particular case.

I know I’m asking you to be very brave here. It may seem much easier to say: ‘Well, I’ll just hope for the best—I don’t want to know what my chances are.’ Don’t forget you can still hope for the best when you do know what your chances are! There are disadvantages to being ignorant. It can mean that you miss out on having additional treatment which might improve your chances. It also means that you cannot realistically plan your personal life. I feel very sad when I remember how often people who have been referred to me for extensive cancer have said things like this: ‘My surgeon told me three years ago that he’d got it all. I’ve just kept on leading a normal life. If only I’d known this was likely to happen I would have . . . taken that overseas trip I’ve planned for so long . . . left that job I hated so much and gone back to studying .. . made up with my brother-in-law so I could see more of my sister . . . learnt to drive a car . . . left my husband then instead of waiting till the kids were older . . .’

Perhaps these people would have made the same decisions if they had known the true situation. Perhaps not. Be brave and ask the questions I suggest. Then, you can make decisions about your personal life which do take into account what is likely to happen in the future. Try to keep this information in perspective. Some people go to extremes—they either allow themselves to be overwhelmed by it or they dismiss it from their minds altogether. Remember that, whatever the statistics say, you can still hope that you will be the lucky exception. Most of us thrive on hope and why not? Just try not to let that hope develop into a fixed and unrealistic belief that you will be the exception. Such a belief could prevent you from making the most of whatever life you do have left.


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