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.
Here's the dilemma: Your loved one wants to drive, saying, "I feel fine." Your loved one's doctor said (s)he cannot drive until cleared at the follow-up visit that is still 2 weeks away. What do you do?
Yesterday, Dr. Mikkaela A Sekeres addressed, "Keeping Cancer a Secret." He was prompted to write the essay after learning that a patient had been keeping his diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome [a pre-cancerous condition] a secret from his grown children and their children.
The patient explained, “'Our son has been away, doing a couple of tours of duty in Afghanistan,” he said. “We were going to tell our daughter, but. …” He paused, trying to find the right words. “It wouldn’t be fair, for her to know, to have this burden, and not him. We were planning on telling them when we’re together over the holiday.'”
Dr. Sekeres offers a few possible reasons, including "'sometimes the one thing that we can control is whom we tell...Some [reasons] are very personal (it’s my body, and what goes on inside it is my business). Some are professional (the screenwriter Nora Ephron kept her myelodysplastic syndrome a secret because she feared that no insurance company would sign off on any movie she tried to make). And some are altruistic (we don’t want others to bear the emotional weight of knowing).'"
His conclusion? "It’s our job, as doctors and nurses, to be deliberate in asking our patients how they will explain their cancer to others, to make sure they understand. Keeping such a diagnosis hushed, a secret from those who love and care for us, is an unfair burden we shouldn’t allow cancer to dictate, too."
Next: Do Healthy Survivors ever keep such secrets?
If ever an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure, it's when patients have teenagers at home. While most teens do okay, rattling in my head are stories of basically good kids from basically good homes who got into serious trouble: