In 1999, oncologist Dr. Letha Mills, psychologist Dr. Bernard Bandman, patient Patricia Barr and I, a medical humanist, were invited to present a lecture at Brown Medical School. The topic was “Humanism in Medicine.” Our intent was to identify barriers and solutions to the practice of humanistic medical care.
While digging through files, I stumbled upon comments made by reviewers of “Art Informs Medicine,” an article that I submitted to the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2010. The reviewers were oncologists. And, it was they who would decide whether my piece would be accepted for publication in a journal for cancer care professionals.
In my July 7 blog Patient Resource Consultant, I shared the circumstances in which I found myself unexpectedly working in cancer care. In essence, Pat Barr, a breast cancer patient and a good friend, convinced the Bennington cancer center’s medical director to hire a patient advocate and volunteered me. Reluctantly, I accepted but changed the job title to “patient resource consultant,” which more accurately described how I envisioned my role.
In digging through files, I discovered a job description of my first position in the world of cancer care. Memories flooded in, including how I initially refused to accept the job. Let me tell you how the door was opened.
As readers of my blog already know, I am drawn to thinking about the space between uncertainty and hope. At this time of year, I often find myself revisiting “Stanzas Concerning an Ecstasy Experienced in High Contemplation” by St. John of the Cross, which moves me to thinking about the mysteries of life and what’s to come. I’d like to share his words with you.
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.
“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.
The Center for Communication in Medicine, which I am a founder, decided that our next SpeakSooner Community Education Program on October 26 in Bennington would focus on the theme of transforming a medical crisis into an opportunity to find meaning and joy in one’s life. Planning this event brought to mind a woman whom I had known from time passed.
Recently, a friend went to the emergency room with complaints of severe GI pain and was admitted to the hospital. Naturally, she was worried about the cause of her symptoms, which she had been experiencing on and off for 6 months. Under the care of her family doctor she tried several medications but none seemed to alleviate her pain entirely. Now, the doctor who she had known for many years and trusted was no longer involved in her care. Instead, a hospitalist appeared at her bedside and would be in charge of the case.
Always interested in receiving feedback about the “Difficult Conversations Toolkit”, a patient asked me if I would read what she had written. “I am unsure,” she said, “of how I have structured it.”
“I’d be pleased to read what you have written,” I said.