How Medical Professionals Can Ease the Treatment Process
Back in December, I wrote an article, entitled “A Prescription For Compassionate Healthcare” that highlighted what medical professionals can offer to patients who are facing health crises. I mentioned a nurse friend named Ondreah Johnson who was anticipating hip replacement surgery. She came through the procedure with flying colors and established a support system of friends and family to aid in her recovery. She is ambulating with a cane and is still not 100% but getting there. She reflected that her body was going through changes that were sometimes disturbing as she ages, but never expected to be in this situation in her 50’s. She knows that healing is an ongoing process.
No sooner had the dust settled post-surgery, then another tidal wave hit. She was doing a routine self-exam and detected a lump in her left breast. Taking a deep breath, she took seriously, this latest development and scheduled an appointment for a professional exam. A series of tests followed and as a career nurse, as well as an intuitive person, she hoped for the best, but knew that it might not turn out as she wished.
In conversation, I suggested that in anticipation of the day she was to hear the results, she would say to the doctor, “Before you deliver the news, imagine that you are sitting before a family member who would be in my situation. How would you tell them the diagnosis?”
On the day that she met with the oncologist, she was prepared to say those words but had not gotten to that point when the doctor was about to offer the outcome. She did ask the physician to sit closer, so she could feel the human behind the mask of professionalism. She complied. The biopsy indicated that she had a rare form of breast cancer. It is so unusual that the staff needed to do more research. She is in the mode that requires decision making about treatment, but first needs to let the information settle in. Of course, it feels surrealistic. In her typical fashion, she could laugh amid her tears as she related that she doesn’t do anything small or in the realm of the norm. That will be part of her treatment regimen. Her friends will see to that.
“In a small study published in 2013, researchers interviewed 17 women receiving treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer about the ways they used and viewed humor related to their diagnosis. The researchers found that nearly all (14 out of 17, 82%) used humor to cope with their diagnosis, and 13 out of 17 (76%) reported it helped reduce their anxiety. In a separate study, 93% of people facing a terminal illness (316 out of the 340 patient participants) said maintaining a sense of humor at the end of life was “very important,” making it almost as important as the absence of pain.”
Gilda Radner was a proponent of laughter amid life challenges. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer from which she died in 1989, she was determined to make the most of the time she had. Following her passing, her husband Gene Wilder, therapist Joanna Bull and friend Joel Siegel created Gilda’s Club which is a non-residential cancer support community for those living with cancer, as well as for their family and friends. It is a come as you are kind of place where laughter and tears merge.
As a medical professional, my friend knows the power of words to harm or heal. When a patient receives a life-altering diagnosis, it will rock their world to the core. What felt normal before, no longer does. We create a new sense of normal. What we took for granted in terms of routine, must be altered to accommodate this altered reality.
One way that she is addressing her new reality is with language. She wrote this social media posting to be fully expressed on this matter.