A patient with advanced lung cancer asked his oncologist about how many years he could expect to live. The doctor replied, “How would you feel about 10 years?” The patient confessed he would be pleased with that prediction even though he had a hunch that it was too optimistic.
A Medical Humanist's Notes
In 2002, around the time that the Writing is Good Medicine® program was launched at the cancer center in Bennington, the Center for Communication in Medicine was also offering the Doctors Conversation Hour to hospital physicians.
I am struck by the similarity between anxieties precipitated by the current COVID-19 crisis and facing cancer. In each, there’s a feeling of not being in control and an uncertainty about the future. These emotions often linger and can be difficult to manage.
We often hear the term “new normal” used in describing lifestyle changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those words are familiar to cancer patients.
Ventilators and their vital role in saving lives of COVID-19 patients are ever present in the news. Listening to these compelling stories brought to mind an experience with a patient as he weighed the use of a breathing machine in his end of life care.
I recall a patient telling me that she played “peekaboo” with her cancer diagnosis. She described how hard it was to think about an uncertain future and the prospect of dying. She needed time to look away and catch her breath. How can any of us keep our eyes wide open without a reprieve when […]
“In times of crisis we summon our strength…
call on every resource…every forgotten image…
every memory that can make us know our power.”
– Muriel Rukeyser
How does one live with uncertainty when facing a life-threatening illness? Where does one find inner strength? Where does one look for supportive resources? Most patients will tell you that they frequently ask themselves these questions.
“When I completed medical school and residency in the Northeast, I rarely thought about the intersection of religion and medicine. But when I moved to the South for a combined fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology and hospice and palliative medicine, I found myself enrolled in a crash course at the bedside,”
We expect doctors to provide state of the art care and help us get better from whatever ails us. By nature, patients are self-centered and believe that doctors should only be concerned about our problems.
In my previous blog “Waiting for Test Results” I shared a conversation from the early 2000’s that I had with a receptionist at the cancer center about responding to inquiries for test results.