Decisions in Bad Times

September 8th, 2018 by Potato

Following my dad’s surgery for the big C, the standard of care is to give 12 cycles of chemotherapy to kill any cancerous cells that may be out there and help prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back. He had chemo just over a decade ago, and it is not a fun time, so he was a bit apprehensive at the notion before meeting the medical oncologist. But the oncologist laid out the plan and the stats and he said that it made sense and agreed to do it.

About a week after his first cycle the worst of the effects were hitting him hard, and he was done. No more chemo, no thank you. Making life miserable now for a chance at some extra years when you’re like, 80, is a bad deal and why would he have ever agreed to do it?

I went over the next day, made some soup, he started to feel better, and we went through some literature together. He agreed that a declaration that chemo was over may have been hasty, and went back for his second cycle yesterday.

That chemo causes nausea surprises no one. This was a known trade-off going in, but once he was actually experiencing these highly unpleasant side effects he was ready to quit.

You don’t want to be rewriting your plan while your head is in the toilet. On top of just feeling awful, there may be some chemo brain that makes it extra hard to make a good long-term decision.

But even beyond chemo, that’s a generalizable lesson. We’ve seen it often enough in investing: the midst of a market crash is not the time to re-evaluate your risk tolerance — you were aware that there were risks to investing and accepted those risks when deciding on your asset allocation in the first place.

The story also underscores the need to write things down. And not just the result of the plan: we didn’t need to write down that he’d be going to chemo every other week for 12 weeks, we needed to write down how he came to that decision. That there would be nausea, and that it would be temporary, and it would be worth it because the survival stats said so. Because it’s while he’s feeling that moment of doubt and urge to quit that he needs to be reminded of why he’s putting himself through this.

One Response to “Decisions in Bad Times”

  1. Potato Says:

    Well, dad has decided to quit chemo after all, though at least that time in a more rational frame of mind (after the worst of the side effects had passed and he was back to having a good day). The side effects were worse than he was expecting, which raises another debate about how pessimistic to be about setting expectations (say it’s not too bad and patients may drop out; set expectations too harshly and they may never start).

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