I’ve always been drawn to Jane Kenyon’s poem “Otherwise.” Her words help me to stop and reflect upon what’s happening in the moment. How often do we not pay attention and appreciate the little things in our daily lives? Kenyon wrote, “I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been […]
A Medical Humanist's Notes
In the video Voices From the Lived World of Illness, Adrienne Barnes tells us, “I thought I could go into the doctor’s office and hear what they said and understand it all and go back and report it to my 9,000 family members…but it’s become a really big joke because I am incapable of going […]
In 1998, when I launched Writing Is Good Medicine® at the cancer center in Bennington, VT, it was based upon social psychologist James Pennebaker’s research on the health benefits of expressive writing. His studies found that patients with chronic conditions who wrote about their illness experiences showed improvements in depression, anxiety, fatigue and tension, which […]
I had the good fortune of working with the late Dr. James Wallace, the first oncologist in the State of Vermont, who came out of retirement to practicing part-time at the cancer center in Bennington. He would talk about the early days at the National Institute of Health (NIH) when chemotherapy was mostly experimental. In passing, he told me that a colleague at that time was Dr. Sidney Farber, the name attached to Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. While at NIH he worked with pioneers in the new field of oncology.
“I am pleased to inform you that your manuscript ‘Art Informs Medicine’ has been accepted for publication in the Art of Oncology section,” the editor noted. I was well aware that this meant that my work was going to appear in an issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (April 20, 2010). I was thrilled. The essay was based upon my experience as a medical humanist at a cancer center. Although it was published 12 years ago, I am still amused by the reviewer’s comments about a submission to a professional journal from someone with no medical credentials.
In a New Yorker article “Why Storytelling Is Part Of Being A Good Doctor” (July 25, 2022) Dr. Jerome Groopman confides, “For two decades, I had seen my patients and their loved ones face some of life’s most uncertain moments, and I now felt driven to bear witness to their stories.” He tells us how he felt inspired to write about his experiences as a doctor as had others before him.
I often think of my dear friend Brian Gawlik who had been managing his illness for over a decade when we interviewed him in 2008 for our Speak Sooner newsletter (before I began writing a blog for the website). I continue to be inspired by his wise words.
I recently discovered an email from Dr. Zail Berry, a physician with expertise in internal medicine, palliative care and Hospice. Several years ago, we had asked her to review SpeakSooner: A Patient’s Guide to Difficult Conversations, a tool I developed to help patients identify questions and concerns. Dr. Berry’s comments were especially important because of how often our materials and programs to improve doctor-patient communication have only been associated with cancer care, not other serious illnesses.
I recently discovered a copy of Doctor-Patient Magazine from fall 2005 in which I was interviewed about my role as a medical humanist at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center. The article’s byline was “Bridging the Gap.” I spoke about the different languages used by doctors and patients, noting that one is the talk of treatment […]
Over the years I’ve facilitated Writing is Good Medicine™ programs at the cancer center in Bennington, community workshops and conferences. More recently, due to safety concerns with COVID, online programs have been offered through my blog “A Medical Humanist’s Notes.” I must admit that I miss being in the room with participants but I’ve come […]