Connect With Others Touched By Cancer
Get to know Jaime, Liz and Sheryl as they blog about their personal experiences with cancer -- as patients, survivors, caregivers and friends.
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August 5, 2010
"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." This quote by Muriel Rukeyser has always been a favorite of mine, and nowhere is it more true than in the cancer world. There seems to be so many stories – too many. I went out for cupcakes with one of my former classmates tonight, and she told me that a fellow classmate's father is very ill with cancer, and that his time is limited. Another statistic, but more importantly, another story, another family facing heartache and struggle, chemo cocktails and test results, and uncertainty and fear.
In the doctor's office, looking around the waiting room, everyone has a story. A diagnosis story. A story of how they told their children. How they told their parents, or their spouse. They have that moment of disbelief or shock. And they have their stories of how they cope with each day. How they get up every morning, and choose hope day after day after day.
In medicine, stories do not always seem to be valued. I see this when my roommates, who are fourth-year medical students, tell me that they can understand the ten-minute diagnosis conversation that I blogged about previously, or their frustration when their attendings do not have significant "face time" with their patients. But what would happen if doctors and nurses took the stories of their patients as part of the whole package? If they knew that the woman in front of them wasn't just a 46-year-old woman, but a mother, daughter, aunt and writer? Or that the teenager who sits sullenly across the table is scared to death because he's seen his grandfather die an extended death from lung cancer? How would things be different if patient "noncompliance" or "resistance" was really examined and the underlying reasons were discussed at the next visit?
Perhaps more interestingly, what if health care providers constantly reminded themselves of why they went into medicine in the first place? If oncologists kept reminders of why they chose such a challenging and often thankless job? What if they kept their humanity and sensitivity and saw patients as people and not just symptom clusters and diseases? If you're lucky, your doctor is already like this, but I have heard too many patients tell stories of doctors who should reexamine their career choice.
Our stories have the power to connect us, but too often we are isolated. Imagine how things would be different if, instead of no one making eye contact with each other in the waiting room, we smiled at each other and started a conversation. This is our universe. Let's start exploring.
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