Dr. Wendy Harpham is a doctor of internal medicine, cancer survivor, and award-winning and best-selling author of books about cancer: Healthy Survivorship, recovery and late effects, and raising children when a parent has cancer. She is also a public speaker, patient advocate, and mother of three.
Healthy Survivors use language that helps them get good care and live as fully as possible. In the case of challenges, it is usually better to say "very" instead of "too." For example, "This newspaper article is toovery upsetting."
What if a topic really is "too" upsetting? What's a Healthy Survivor to do?
In Sunday's NY Times cover story, "Radiation Offers Powerful New Cures, and Ways to Do Harm," Walt Bogdanich reports on the risk of patients being accidentally injured by overdoses of therapeutic radiation. Computer glitches and inadequate oversight lead to mistakes that cause patients serious harm, including death. How are you supposed to respond to such news reports in the context of Healthy Survivorship?
Imagine a 75-year-old man at a new-patient appointment with a young physician. The patient is meticulously dressed and groomed, and he walks somewhat awkwardly with a cane. His medical history is significant for a fall five months earlier that resulted in two fractures of his pelvis. The fractures are healing nicely, but he now needs help with a problem that developed as a consequence of his treatment.
In last week's Science section of the NYTimes, Denise Grady reported on a recent study in which most of the doctors who responded to a survery indicated they would wait until their terminally ill patients felt worse or were out of options before talking about end-of-life care, such as hospice.
I was moved to write a letter to the editor (p.D4 or click here) when I read one of the possible reasons cited: fear that patients will lose hope or that physicians will “yank away” hope by talking about end-of-life wishes.
"You won't believe what happened today," she says. "What happened?" you ask, beginning to worry about all the possible bad things it could be. She then begins the saga, "I was going grocery shopping, and..."
Years ago, a young man was diagnosed with an aggressive but very treatable cancer. Suddenly quite ill, the drama of his illness was great. Friends and family rallied round, keeping him company 24/7 at the hospital. Meanwhile, an opened letter sat on his desk:
Life has been busy. Besides the flurry of planning Becky's wedding and celebrating holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and New Year's, I've also been preparing a new presentation, which was slated for an 11 a.m. delivery today in Orlando.