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.
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:
How you sound is as important as what words you choose. If you appear confident of being able to deal with your illness and help your children – even if you shed a few tears – they will feel comforted.
A mother describes her distress over her daughters getting tested for a genetic mutation (BRCA) that may predispose them to the same cancer for which she was treated successfully. She knows this is not her fault, yet she feels dreadfully guilty.
Parents going through chemo often struggle to explain their alopecia (hair loss) to their young children. The rhyming verse in Nowhere Hair offers a healing conversation-starter that is both whimsical and profound.
When young parents are dying, they face the loss of everything they know and hold dear. Arguably their greatest pain is losing the chance to raise their child(ren). To help such parents find hope in desperate times, I offer a suggestion:
Lymphoma survivor Jen Singer, journalist and parent, just launched a new website -- parentingwithcancer.com -- to provide guidance and support to moms and dads facing the twin challenges of cancer and kids.
The preceding four posts on grief and acceptance set the stage for a closer look at how patients can be Healthy Survivors at the end-of-life. In other words, how can you both get good care and live as fully as possible after a diagnosis of terminal disease?
When a parent has late-stage cancer with limited life expectancy, everyone wants to rewrite the expected ending. The doctors and nurses, the parent with cancer, the family's loved ones and especially the children want to make it "all better."
In a piece entitled"The Genes That Bind" (summer issue of CURE magazine), Journalist Charlotte Huff covers the emotionally charged topic of when and how to share information on genetic risk with children.
You've survived cancer. Now a friend develops the same type of cancer and is making horrible decisions (in your opinion). She's declining conventional therapies for a treatable cancer or deciding against telling her children she is sick. What's a good friend to do?
What happens if you have a lovely lamp and a working electrical outlet, but the lamp is not plugged in? Nothing. But put the lamp's plug in the outlet and - voila! - you have beautiful light that helps you see. That's the image that comes to mind whenever I learn about excellent survivorship resources.