Should I have chemotherapy?

Jul 10, 2023


Dear Venerable Robina,

I start my radiation treatment for my cancer tomorrow – it will be thirty-five sessions across seven weeks.

The potential side effects relate to damage to the surrounding tissue, and such impact can be long term.

They also propose chemotherapy which of course also has lots of potential side effects, some also long term. When they first spoke of both radiation and chemo, they said “if your body can tolerate it.”

Both can trigger more cancer also.

The chemo doctor is a wonderful, compassionate healer. While he went through all the side effects he also told me I could say no to treatment up to the last minute, not to worry that the medicine allocated to me would not go wasted. He also said that he would take the chemo if he were in my position.

According to the statistics, they say it adds a 5 to 10% success to the radiation.

It does not seem a lot of added % and I am wondering if I can make that up with other changes: my diet – changed radically; detox and treatment at an ayurvedic clinic after radiation treatment; TCM, acupuncture and homeopathy. And of course, prayer and practice.

I am still stuck with indecision Ven. Robina, it seems ominous to say yes, it seems ominous to say no. I am doing my best to make prayers for guidance and if you have any strong view on it, I will listen.

With love and thanks



N, dear one.

First, don’t be motivated by fear. You will die, no matter what; it’s a question of when. With that perspective, relax, and decide to do what is most beneficial, and as His Holiness says, long term better than short term.

And, of course, long term means your enlightenment. So pray to do what is best for you in order for it to be a cause for enlightenment.

As for chemo: I like the sound of your doctor, so follow him. 

But radiation comes first, right? See what happens after that.

All those other things, anyway; no doubt about it, do them.

One step at a time. Each step you take, motivated by your bodhichitta, will anyway bring unanticipated results. Nothing’s set in stone; it’s all dependent arising.

So think, as Rinpoche advises, that you will die today, and live your life the way your lamas live theirs.

May you live for another fifty years!




Dear Venerable Robina,

Thank you for the precious reminder of doing what is of most benefit, not out of fear of suffering and death, which has long run the show.

The chemo, it is being suggested, is to happen at the same time as the radiation. That is why they say “if the body can tolerate it.” It is the combination of both that seems daunting to me.

I can speak to the oncologist again soon when I see him, and share my concerns.

Until enlightenment, Venerable Robina, please keep guiding me. And please live a long life continuing to teach for the benefit of all.


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