beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

  • Contact BIDMC
  • Maps & Directions
  • Other Locations
  • Careers at BIDMC
  • Smaller Larger

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

Smaller Larger

How We React to Cancer

Posted 9/17/2015

Posted in

  This will be a brief introduction to a wonderful essay by Heather Millar from WebMD. I love this topic, and I think she says it all. My additions are few and cluster around how hard/impossible it is to really assess or know who someone else when she is in the throes of a cancer diagnosis. The early weeks are usually the time of highest stress and crisis, and, time and time again, I am asked to see someone whose doctors think is having an especially hard time.

  That hard time usually means crying or being angry in the doctor's office. Hopefully, all oncologists know how stressful this early time is, but that knowledge does not make them any better able to tolerate or cope with intense negative feeling. It quickly becomes; "Please call our social worker" or even an urgent page to me or one of my colleagues. What is really striking is how often that same person turns out to be completely lovely, composed, thoughtful, and mild-mannered--once the crisis has settled.

  Here is it: Is There a 'Right Way' to React to Cancer?
By Heather Millar

When I was going through treatment, there was a woman that I used to always see in the infusion ward.
We had the same oncologist and we were going through the same scalp cooling clinical trial, in an effort to
save our hair through chemo. We were always seated in the same treatment bay. So, from my point of
view, we had lots in common.
Being outgoing to a fault, I tried to chat with her. Every infusion. And every time we sat together having
poison dripped into our veins, she shut me down. Didn’t want to talk. Seemed angry and unfriendly. So by
the last couple infusions, I learned to just smile and nod.
I assumed that she must just be a grumpy person, but she always had a different friend sitting with her. So
someone must have liked her…
Then, about four months after our chemo ended, I ran into this woman as I was getting a post-radiation
checkup. She smiled broadly and extended her hand. “How are you doing?” she asked in the cheeriest of
tones. “Aren’t you glad THAT’s over?”


Add your comment