Jump to content

Book about coping with Cancer

Recommended Posts

Saw this on the morning ABC News: This is sampling

Excerpt: Dr. Bernadine Healy's "Living Time"

March 27, 2007 — Dr. Bernadine Healy is perhaps best known for leading some of the largest, most respected medical institutions in the country. But on Valentine's Day 1999, she was dealt a blow that shattered her world.

That was the night when Healy found out that she had brain cancer. Doctors gave her three months live without treatment. With chemotherapy, her chances increased to 18 months to two years.

But eight years later, Healy is still thriving. Her book, "Living Time," is written from two perspectives — that of the physician and that of the patient — about her fight against brain cancer. She hopes it will help people diagnosed with the disease to realize that cancer isn't "dying time" — it's "living time."

Read an excerpt from "Living Time" below:

Chapter One

A Valentine's Day


These words ran through my mind as I lay in the emergency room of the Cleveland Clinic on Valentine's Day, 1999. It was in the wee hours of the morning, a time I remembered all too well from my medical residency years at Johns Hopkins. That's when the ER would fill up with drunks and drug addicts, knife and gunshot casualties, car accident survivors, and early morning heart attack victims. Many years had passed since then, but now I was one of them, an emergency room patient in great distress. I had just received startling information that would forever change my life.

Only a few hours earlier, my husband, Fred, and I were sitting up in bed watching the Oscar De La Hoya fight on HBO. At some point that I cannot recall, I passed out, only to awaken with the local rescue squad standing by our bed. I was confused. Why were they talking to Fred about my ambulance ride to the hospital? Why was my husband on the phone with his good friend Al Lerner, asking him to meet us in the emergency room? I protested that this was all unnecessary, that I felt entirely well. I had an overwhelming desire to stay and comfort our terrified twelve-year-old, Marie, trembling in the shadows, and to talk to Michele, my sister, who'd rushed over to be with her. Despite these protests, I soon found myself strapped to a narrow gurney in an ambulance with flashing lights, hurtling along dark, deserted streets into midtown Cleveland.

Dr. Patrick Sweeney, the gentle, white-haired neurologist who was the attending physician that evening, met us in the ER, ready to perform the usual neurological tests for what my husband believed had been a seizure. Fred is a renowned cardiac surgeon and at the time was the director of the Cleveland Clinic, but he was pure husband that night. He listened attentively to Dr. Sweeney and acted as the best of spouses would, making sure I was comfortable, squeezing my hand, and calming my nerves with lighthearted jokes: "Hey, was this just your way of getting out of watching the prizefight?"

But very shortly we found that my blackout had not been an inconsequential seizure after all. Fred knew first because he went off to huddle with the radiologist to review the brain scans. He stood quietly by, eyes swollen, as Dr. Sweeney brought me the shocking news: the spell had resulted from a good-sized tumor growing in the left side of my brain. I asked Dr. Sweeney if it was malignant. Leaning over the rail, peering into my eyes, he said simply, "Yes."

Even though Fred and I have an uncanny ability to think the same thoughts at the same time, this was one moment when we could not bear to share those thoughts. After all, we always said we were goose and gander, mated for life; we wouldn't do well without each other. And all I could think was: So this is how I die. Not in a car accident or a plane crash, not felled by a heart attack in honor of my own medical specialty. It would be by my own cells, mutating and roaming inside my body — in my head, no less. I felt powerless and immobile. My own life's work with the critically ill brought me no special strength or solace; if anything, I knew too much. This cancer was insidious, already having grown to a near-fatal state in my brain without ever tipping me off. Not one hint.

Here I was in the prime of life, and fairly diligent about all the healthy habits I had preached so reverently for decades. Though a cardiologist by training, I had also earned my stripes in the war on cancer: I was then the dean of the College of Medicine and Public Health at Ohio State University, where I had been expanding the school's cancer genetics program. Years before, I had headed the Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, where I built its first cancer biology department. And as director of the National Institutes of Health in the early 1990s, I oversaw the National Cancer Institute and participated in its 1991 celebration of twenty years of the National Cancer Act, which brought us the war on cancer. There I also immersed myself in the massive effort to unravel the human genome, which will have its greatest payoff in the area of cancer. And in the course of my life as a hands-on physician, I had cared for and consulted with patients who had had a brain tumor. I had every reason to know the meaning of my newly diagnosed illness. It was not good.

At that long moment of discovery, looking up into the sad, drawn face of my husband, I knew that all of our medical expertise combined would not help us cope with this numbing news. No matter who we are, from whatever background, we all feel the same chill upon hearing the C word. It's a universal fact: when serious illness strikes, we are the same vulnerable souls.

And so are our families. Returning home the next day, that became all too evident. Their world, too, suddenly becomes cloudy. It was hard to explain to those on the home front what still seemed inexplicable to us. To my ninety-eight-year-old mother-in-law, Nonie, who lived with us, this was bewildering news. Her "Bernie dear" was never sick. As for my mom, cancer was the thief that had taken my dad from us twenty years before, and it was not hard to see in her pale, stoic face that she knew what might be in store. How good it was that she had moved right next door to us several years before —

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.