14th December 2018

Stopping chemotherapy – the taboo we don’t talk about.

My BBC Radio 4 interview

Stopping Chemotherapy (c) KarinSieger.com

Stopping chemotherapy – why stop a treatment that is meant to keep you alive? I came close to stopping chemotherapy and here is what happened next.

In 2012 I went through chemotherapy for breast cancer and developed most of the common side effects. It all started to wear me down physically, mentally and emotionally.

For me, living and coping with cancer treatment had become bigger than the illness itself.

It was difficult to explain to others and to myself. When I developed sever peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) in my feet and there was a risk I would not be able to walk, I was seriously considering pulling the plug on it all.

I was too ill from it all to feel guilty or frightened. But still, stopping chemotherapy or not, that was a hard consideration. Because ultimately there was no way of assessing the risk either way. And because of chemo brain I was not sure whether my perception and judgement had been affected in a way, that I would not be able to make the right choice.

Chemo brain explained in plain English (and how to cope) – Read more

Speaking with a neighbour and her friend, both of whom had gone through the same treatment and who understood my thinking – that helped a lot.

And then out of the blue I heard champion jockey Bob Champion speak on the radio, about how he had been considering stopping chemotherapy and what had kept him going. Bob had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1979. After a most gruelling of chemo treatments and against all odds he won the Grand National in 1981. His story was made into a book and film.

More recently Bill Turnbull, the former BBC Breakfast anchor, who’s now a presenter on Classic FM explained he asked doctors to stop his “unbearable” chemotherapy.

The programme was BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House on Sunday mornings at 9am. And then I did something I never did before. I emailed the programme, there and then. Listening to Bob had helped me decide to pull through with the chemo. The following week a broadcasting van arrived near my boat along the Thames in London and I was interviewed for the programme. In February 2014 Bob and I were invited to a joint interview on Broadcasting House with Paddy O’Connell.

You can listen to our interview here via BBC Sounds. If you have not got an account, you can sign up for free within a minute. You can hear us talk about the taboo, our own story and what attitudes helped us through.

Listen to my BBC Radio 4 interview here

Stopping chemotherapy (c) KarinSieger.com

Stopping chemotherapy (c) KarinSieger.com

Though I had decided to continue with my treatment, my oncologist suggested to stop after one more cycle. Now, six years later I have been re-diagnosed. Chemotherapy was not one of the recommended treatments. Whether I would go through it again, I don’t know. It all depends … Like you and the next person, starting or stopping chemotherapy is a personal choice for us all.

Watch my videos about Chemo Brain and Chemo Hair Loss

Why cancer does not stop after treatment – Read More

Cancer journey? Why I prefer life journey – Read More


Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.

2 Comments

  1. My partner went through 3 separate bouts of cancer. The last one metastasized to her bones and finally her brain. She had always done reasonable well enduring chemo until the last round in her last year of life. She had, at that time, undergone 5 rounds of chemo, whole brain radiation, targeted brain radiation, and several surgeries for the part that had gone into her bones. She was a gifted academic and went to the UK on a fulbright during the last bout.
    The final chemo was one that was awful – mouth sores, hives, aching tiredness, edema, and so on. She would tell me she was going to stop, and I always told her I was there no matter what she chose. Finally she did finish that round. Unfortunately, as soon as she finished the round of chemo, the breast tumor and the brain tumors started growing again. She died from brain swelling after surgery to remove one of the brain tumors. I miss her everyday but I know the treatment was becoming too onerous to endure further. I wish you well with your choices.

    • Thank you for sharing your partner’s and your own difficult experience. It’s such a difficult area, full of different opinions and recommendations. Your loss and grief sounds raw. It must have been so hard on you, too. Encouraging another to feel free to do what they thinks best, that’s great support, and important to hold onto. Look after yourself. And I wish you well. Karin

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