Dear Friend

The shock of a cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming. And yet the decisions you must make about your cancer treatments can be some of the most consequential.

Here are some important rules of thumb for getting these powerful—yet also often difficult—cancer treatments right.

Don’t rush into treatment 

First, don’t rush into treatment. You almost always have some time unless it is an acute emergency. Ask your doctor how much time you can safely take to consider your options.

You may need time to emerge from the shock of a diagnosis and decide what you really want to do. You will likely do better and likely have fewer regrets. The biggest regret people with cancer often have is when they look back after treatment and say “I wish I’d known that before.”

Research your choices as carefully as you would a home or a car purchase

Second, you would likely take great care in deciding on a new car or a new home. Take at least as much care in researching your options in cancer treatment. The benefits can be so important. Find a friend or family member or hire someone to help you. Someone to take notes, look up treatments, study physician qualifications, and all the rest. from the American Society of Clinical Oncology is one of the best resources for understanding how your oncologist sees your situation. Likewise the National Cancer Institute’s


From the American Society of Clinical Oncology

Access the website ›

National Cancer Institute

Access the website ›

Get several opinions

No physician would undertake a major cancer treatment without getting several opinions. Ideally you want to talk with physicians in different hospitals or care networks. They often have different advice. You may trust one practitioner more than another.

Take time to understand your options

That’s why taking time to understand your options before deciding on these life-altering therapies is so important. Many of these therapies will fundamentally change your life in lasting ways.

Research side effects

Research side effects. You may live with them for a long time. Knowing about them, including whether or not complementary therapies can be utilized to minimize them, may affect your decisions about which cancer treatments to choose.

Ask what matters now

Above all, ask yourself what really matters now in your life. Do you want to go for a cure (or life extension) at any cost? Or do you prefer quality of life, enjoying what time you have, picking therapies where the risk and benefit are acceptable to you, and possibly adding complementary therapies?

You won’t regret taking the time you need to explore these fundamental life choices. The answers will depend on what truly matters now for you.

Use 7 Healing Practices to strengthen yourself for treatment

Conventional treatments are often rigorous. The healthier you are, the better you are likely to come through them well. Using our 7 Healing Practices is fundamental and widely accepted wisdom to strengthen yourself before, during, and after treatment.

Be cautious about complementary therapies alone when conventional therapies are curative or can extend life at an acceptable cost to you

We’ve known many people who didn’t want conventional therapies because they feared their side effects. Often their cancers were early-stage and curable when they opted for complementary therapies alone. Then their cancers progressed and became incurable.

Often they then accept conventional therapies when these therapies can no longer offer cures.

This is a tragic situation. If conventional therapies offer a cure or a high likelihood of life extension, go for them—unless you have truly decided that the cost in terms of quality of life and what matters now to you is too high.

Build complementary therapies around the best conventional treatment

Build your complementary therapies around the best conventional treatment. Start with our 7 Healing Practices. Then explore what other complementary therapies show evidence of effectiveness with your cancer. Our database of reviews of complementary therapies will make your search much easier.

What you really want is a qualified integrative cancer specialist to work with you. The Society for Integrative Oncology is the most credible starting place to find someone from a mainstream perspective. The Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians is another excellent resource. There are many more. It is far better to build your complementary therapy program with qualified help than to go it alone.


My friend and Medical Advocate Mark Renneker says this: He has never seen a case where more information doesn’t improve outcomes. The bottom line is you can go as deep as you want, as you choose, and as you have time to do.

My prayers for your decisions. I’ve been in this place myself. The choices aren’t always easy. But the more time and thought I give them, the better I usually do.

Love and prayers,


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About the Author

Michael Lerner

Michael Lerner is co-founder of Commonweal and co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, The New School at Commonweal, and CancerChoices.

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Michael Lerner is co-founder of Commonweal and co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, The New School at Commonweal, and CancerChoices. He has led more than 200 Commonweal Cancer Help Program retreats to date. His book Choices In Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer was the first book on integrative cancer care to be well received by prominent medical journals as well as by the patient and integrative cancer care community.

Michael Lerner Co-Founder