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.
Why does When Breath Becomes Air succeed where so many other books fail or, at best, only come close? Using memoir format to offer useful lessons on life, author Dr. Paul Kalanithi had the exceedingly rare combination of all the following:
In my January 7th post I asked: How do you know if you are pushing yourself too much during or after cancer treatment? My first piece of advice was to discuss your symptoms with your physicians. What if your physicians cannot give you a clear answer?
I regret the times a stupid platitude popped out of my mouth in my efforts to comfort or support. Sadly, I'll continue to screw up because platitudes are ingrained in our culture of comforting. My hope is that the more I talk about the problem, the fewer times I'll say something that mght harm another.
In a few clinical situations, patients with a potentially curable low-risk cancer have the treatment option of active surveillance. What is active surveillance and what are the challenges of pursuing that option?
To shorten patients' wait, why don't nurses relay scan results to patients? Given that I desperately want to minimize the time patients wait for results, here are reasons why I think that is not the answer.
Many reasons explain why it can take so long to get test results. I strove to get results to my patients as fast as possible, especially when their waiting was stressful. But even more than I wanted to deliver news quickly I wanted to deliver news well.
I welcome disagreements, such as a response to my September 9th post on how clinicians can help minimize patients' scanxiety. A reader posted, "The pollyanna spin/advice on this may help some. For me, I'd just roll my eyes and say, 'You're kidding. Right?'"
A common problem among cancer survivors is scanxiety: the anxiety elicited by undergoing and waiting for the results. As a Healthy Survivor, I've explored how to minimize scanxiety. in Minimizing Scanxiety" I've shared with clinicians what I've learned.(Oncology Times July 25, 2015)
In my July 8th post, I brought up a paradox: Patients can know that letting something go will empower them to get good care and/or live as fully as possible, and yet they don't let go. Why wouldn't they embrace an act of empowerment?
In medical situations where letting something go is a necessary step to Healthy Survivorship, the act of letting it go is an act of empowerment. So, too, in situations where letting something go is the healthiest option
Healthy Survivors know when and how to "let it go," whatever "it" is. They follow through and let that thing go when doing so helps them get good care and/or live as fully as possible. But letting things go can be so difficult.
Susan Fariss wrote about living well with metastatic cancer in "I'm Going to Live Until I Die," quoting actress Valerie Harper for the article's subtitle, "Don't go to the funeral until the day of the funeral." She offers lessons for all of us who want to be Healthy Survivors.
Many Healthy Survivors are living with chronic loss and/or the expectation of a shorter life expectancy. Their challenge is finding a healthy balance of grieving the loss(es) and embracing joys that remain.
Racing the Clock, Saving the Heart focuses on progress in minimizing the time between a heart patient making contact with the medical team and undergoing heart-muscle-saving interventions. It's a fascinating account of the science, politics and practical issues of progress in treating patients with heart disease.