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« Fighting Cancer With Knowledge & Hope | Main | To Fight Cancer, Know The Enemy »

August 07, 2009


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Kairol Rosenthal

Good timing for me to be reading this. I just spent two days interviewing and filming a young woman who is dying of cancer.

I need to read more to fully understand the point Jane is making here. I am a big proponent of patients being pro-active in the doc-patient relationship and making communication a two way street. But I am not sure that I agree that patients should be monitoring and helping docs with their emotional challenges around the patient's death.

Death can be a learning experience for everyone involved. But I feel like the patient needn't take on being an active instructor when they have soooo much else going on at this time in their life.

What do you think?

blog -

Wendy S. Harpham, MD

I hear what you are saying, Kairol.

In an ideal world all physicians are as skilled in healing physician-patient bonds as they are technically proficient and expert in their fields. But medicine is a practice; physicians keep learning for the rest of their lives.

I always gave my best from the day I took the Hippocratic Oath, but my "best" definitely got better and better over the years.

Jane Brody's point here meshes perfectly with an important theme of my book, HAPPINESS IN A STORM, namely Healthy Survivors do what they have to do to get good care and live as fully as possible. In this situation, they don't care if it is right or wrong to have to ask their physicians not to abandon them (It is wrong!) They do what they have to do to get good care.

I am not talking about heavy conversations or reversing the physician-patient roles. As Jane points out, it can be just a few sentences. Patients can say, "You've been so good to me since my diagnosis. I appreciate all you've done and know this is difficult. We are no longer aiming for a cure or even prolonging my life. But, Doctor, I want and need you to be here for me through this, too. Please care for me to the end."

Patients who refuse to reach out to their physicians (because they feel they shouldn't have to) may end up depriving themselves of the expert and compassionate care of a physician who just needed a bit of guidance and prodding to get it right.

I also believe patients may experience some healing themselves after guiding their physicians to deliver better care in one way or another. Think about it, Kairol: By teaching the members of their healthcare team how to deliver compassionate care, these patients embraced an opportunity to indirectly help other patients. And that, my fellow Healthy Survivor, is a wonderful thing.

With hope, Wendy

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