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 […]

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When Illness Changes Our Future

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.

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Don’t Make Trouble

So, how does someone find themselves creating the role of a medical humanist? I can tell you that there were signs a long time ago. As a little girl I’d often position myself to overhear conversations between adults, usually family and friends. I would repeat what I heard to my mother but she usually dismissed what I reported. She’d often say, “They didn’t say that. Don’t make trouble.” Somehow, I never gave up on naming “the elephant in the room” when I saw one. In my adult years I came to understand that my mother was trying to protect me from learning about the harsh realities of life.

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No Man’s Land

I recall a patient’s husband recounting what his wife’s oncologist said when her cancer progressed and was no longer curable. The doctor told her to adjust her outlook “to living with cancer rather than dying from cancer.” At the time of that conversation, I was involved in his wife’s care in my role of medical humanist at the cancer center in Bennington, VT. Her husband told me that “I not only provided a bridge between the doctor and the patient but also between the patient’s present and future.” These were humbling words but I say them because of how difficult it is to live in “no man’s land.” What I did for this patient and her husband was document their concerns about the oncologist’s statement so it could be addressed at their next office visit. Words are words but the experience of hearing them can be something entirely different.

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