Saturday, April 16, 2011

An Oncologist's Experience with his Spouse's Cancer

It has been a while since I posted. I was inspired to place an entry here after reading the last in a series of New York Times blog posts by Peter Bach, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center about his and his wife's experience with her cancer diagnosis and treatment. I highly recommend this series, as well as the comments posed by readers. See below for the comment I posted to the NYT blog:

"Thanks to Dr. B, and his wife, for being so willing to share their experience with us, in such a public way. Dr. Bach's openness and honesty, his efforts to be reflective and mindful, and his capacity to use his insights and learning to improve his caring for patients, is both instructive and inspiring.

As a medical educator, I have encouraged students to learn from the experiences of patients and their caregivers. They are our most valuable teachers. Hearing first hand about the emotional, physical, interpersonal and spiritual challenges of having an illness helps us to learn what patients and their loved-ones need. Learning about their experience also provides opportunities to respond with empathy and compassion, as well as with treatments, resources and services that might be available to help tthem to manage and cope. If we don't have the skills or capacity to respond ourselves, we can refer patients and their caregivers to colleagues or to valuable services and programs in the community, including those provided by other patients and peers. Yet, as many others have commented, too many clinicians feel unprepared to both uncover these needs, or respond effectively. This must change. Hopefully, Dr. B and other enlightened faculty will continue to help future students to develop competencies in clinician-patient communication, compassionate care, patient activation and self-management support.

As Dr. B has demonstrated, we can also learn valuable lessons from those clinicians who are willing to share their personal experiences with us, however painful. Thanks again for sharing his story and providing an opportunity to learn from all those commenting here. I join others wishing Dr. B. and his wife well. I also want to second the recommendation made by another reader about Rachel Remen's books, Kitchen Table Wisdom, and My Grandfather's Blessings. Rachel is a physician who epitomizes the skills associated with compassionate relationship-centered healing. She is also a fabulous writer and storyteller."