When facing a cancer diagnosis, you quickly learn who shows up and who retreats. The impact of illness on relationships was one of the topics discussed with four cancer patients in the Center for Communication in Medicine’s video “Voices from the Lived World of Illness.” As producers of the video, psychologist Dr. Bernard Bandman and […]
A Medical Humanist's Notes
Transcending All Knowledge
As readers of my blog already know, I am drawn to thinking about the space between uncertainty and hope. As we turn the calendar to a new year, I often find myself revisiting Stanzas Concerning an Ecstasy Experienced in High Contemplation by St. John of the Cross, which moves me to think about the mysteries […]
Your Sense of Self Has Changed
“Every day you wake up and your whole sense of self had changed whether you want it to or no. You have to think of yourself as different,” Adrienne Barnes, a patient with pancreatic cancer tells us.” Then, we hear Pete Johnson, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, say, “There are times, even […]
It Might Be Otherwise
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 […]
What’s Said and Left Unsaid
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 […]
Can Writing Improve Health?
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 […]
Injecting Humanism Into Medicine
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.
Can Telling Stories Help?
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.
On Being A Patient Revisited
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.