Making decisions about treatment

While some people feel overwhelmed with information, others feel that they do not have enough. Understanding your illness, its possible treatment and its side effects will help you to make decisions. Your treatment has been designed for your personal situation – the outcomes and side effects of your treatment will be different from those experienced by other people. Discuss your situation with a member of your radiation treatment team.

Sometimes it is difficult to make decisions about what treatment is right for you. You might feel that everything is happening so fast that you do not have time to think things through. Occasionally a decision will need to be made within a short timeframe to ensure that your treatment can begin as soon as possible. It is important to be fully informed before making a decision – it must be the right one for you.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s information sheet Making decisions about your cancer treatment on our website (

“At first I wondered if ignorance was bliss, but after a week I thought, ‘No’. It’s my body and I want to know what was going to happen, and I want to know if I make a decision what will happen.” Silei



A second opinion

You might want to ask for a second opinion from another specialist. Your specialist or general practitioner (GP) can refer you. You can ask for your records to be sent to the second doctor.


Talking with others

Once you have discussed treatment options with your doctor, you might want to talk them over with someone else. Talking it over can help to sort out what course of action is right for you.

The Cancer Society runs a peer-support programme called Cancer Connect NZ, which you may find helpful. Cancer Connect is a free peer-support programme that puts you in touch with a trained volunteer who has had a similar cancer and treatment. This person may be able to offer you practical advice and emotional support. Call the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) for more information.\


Taking part in a clinical trial

Research into the causes of cancer and ways to prevent, detect and treat it is continuing. Your doctor might suggest that you consider taking part in a clinical trial. You could also ask if there is a clinical trial for your particular cancer. Clinical trials are a vital part of the search to find better treatments for cancer. They are done to test new or modified treatments, and to see if they are better than existing treatments.

Many people all over the world have taken part in trials that have resulted in improvements to cancer treatment. If you are asked to take part in a trial, make sure you fully understand the reasons for the trial and what it means for your treatment.

You might wish to ask your doctor:

  • Which treatments are being tested and why?
  • What tests are involved?
  • What are the possible risks or side effects?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Will I need to go to hospital for treatment?
  • What will I do if any problems occur while I am in the trial?
  • If the treatment I receive on the trial is successful for my cancer, is there a possibility of carrying on with the treatment afterwards?

If you join a clinical trial, you will be given either the best existing treatment or a new treatment. The treatment you receive will be chosen at random and will be appropriate for your condition. Your health and progress will be carefully monitored throughout the trial.

If you join a trial, you have the right to withdraw at any time.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s booklet Cancer Clinical Trials on our website (


Experiences of people who have had radiation treatment

“Towards the end of my treatment, the side effects were pretty bad but, by noting what I could and couldn’t do each day, I could see progress, not just the setbacks.” Brian

“My only advice is to talk about it. Be very careful to listen to everyone. Be very careful because some are very forceful. If you listen to everyone, the right information will become apparent whilst the unusual advice may be the stuff you tend to ignore.” Gerald

“The big thing is to surround yourself with positive people, music, and quiet.” Silei

“One woman shared with me the tools of writing and I’ve still got that in the back of my mind — to actually sit down one day to do that. It’s a need to leave something. If I go tomorrow I want to leave a footprint.” Alofa

“Be yourself through this. Be optimistic. I think my judo has helped my whole mechanism. My discipline and training [from judo] has helped me focus and keep strong.” Milly

“Well, one of the things I thought about was that when you have the seeds they say you are not supposed to sit next to a pregnant woman, but how the hell do you know that she’s pregnant [in the early stages]? So I told Human Resources at work and it was a bit like a safety and health issue.” Paul

“At my last appointment they said, ‘See you later’ and I said, ‘Hang on a minute, I want to know this, this and this’, and they said, ‘Oh, okay, let’s start at the beginning’.” Melinda

image page 45 Radiation treatment 2018 ID 20130 

Other treatments and therapies

Traditional Māori healing

Traditional healing has been an integral part of Māori culture for generations. Values, belief systems and teachings from kaumātua and tohunga alike have seen Māori focus on total wellbeing encompassing taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whānau (the physical domain, the domain of mind and behaviour, the spiritual domain and the family/whānau or social domain).

When Māori are faced with tough decisions on health care or treatment, some opt for traditional healing methods. These can include rongoā Māori, romiromi or mirimiri to name a few customary remedies based on native plants, massage therapy and spiritual healing.

If you are thinking about using these treatments, please talk about them with your radiation treatment team. Both parties aim to provide you with the best possible care that has minimal side effects. If you have difficulty expressing your needs to your treatment providers, find someone to advocate on your behalf so that both traditional Māori healers and hospital treatment specialists are able to work together to support you on your cancer journey.

Hauora Māori

Mai rā anō te hauora Māori i noho ai hei wāhanga ō te ahurea Māori. Nā ngā uaratanga, te pūnaha whakapono me ngā akoranga a ngā kaumātua me ngā tohunga i kitea ai te arotahi a te Māori ki te oranga kotahi e rarawhi ana i te taha tinana, te taha hinengaro, te taha wairua me te taha whānau.

Ka huri ētahi Māori ki ngā kaupapa hauora Māori i ētahi wā mēnā he uaua ki te whakatau ko tēhea, ko tēhea ō ngā momo maimoa me whai. Tae noa rā ki te rongoā Māori, te romiromi, te mirimiri rānei, hei tauira atu. Ka hāngai katoa ki tarutaru otaota whenua me ngā rākau, te haumanu romiromi me te whakaoranga ā-wairua.

Mehemea he uaua ki te korere i ō hiahia ki ngā kaiwhakarato maimoatanga, rapua tētahi tangata hei kaitaunaki mōu, kia āhei ai ngā tohunga hauora me matanga maimoa ō ngā hōhipera ki te mahi ngātahi.

Pacific traditional healing

Traditional healing has long been used by Pacific people to help in their recovery. It involves taking a holistic approach to treating the person, where their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs are looked after together, rather than as separate parts. The treatment offered to each person can vary, depending on their needs. Medicinal plants and herbs may be used during the treatment process, as well as stones and massage.

The area of your body receiving radiation treatment should not be massaged during treatment and for several weeks afterwards. Massage may make side effects worse.

It is possible to use both Western and traditional medicine as part of your healing journey. Each has its place and benefits. You may think that the doctor and the traditional healer do not need to know about what each other is doing. But it is important that they do in order to make sure that the medicines you are taking are working well together and they are not causing any problems. Traditional plant medicines can sometimes react with Western medications.

If you find it hard to tell your doctor or nurses about the traditional healing methods being used by your healer, it may be helpful for your doctor or nurses to talk directly to your healer or even a close family/ whānau member who knows what treatments you are receiving.


Complementary and alternative therapies

Complementary therapies are massage, meditation, acupuncture and other methods that are used alongside medical treatments. They may help you to feel better and cope more easily with your cancer treatment.

“When it was painful I transported myself to the market at home with fresh fruit. I remembered songs that have no words that reminded me of home, like streams and natural sounds. I imagined myself at moments throughout my lifetime — special places on the beach, certain things we did as children. I took myself there.” Silei

Alternative therapies include some herbal and dietary methods, which are used instead of medical treatment. Many are promoted as cancer cures; however, none of these methods have been proven to be effective in treating cancer.

It is important to let your doctors know if you are taking any complementary or alternative therapies, because some treatments may be harmful if they are taken at the same time as medical treatments.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s booklet Complementary and Alternative Medicine on our website