An inspiriting story about modern medicine’s advancing knowledge  starting with the story of a couple facing the wife’s death.  Victory in the Cancer Wars

Here is another inspiring story about one of my gurus.   My first job as a Master’s level Social Worker was in the Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington, Vermont.  One of my assignments was to the Radiology Service.  That was in 1962.  My job was to support cancer patients and help their treating radiologist  Oscar Peterson   understand what each of his patients had heard about their medical condition.  Long before Kubler-Ross was urging openness, Dr. Peterson was a straight shooter when he talked to  patients about their  condition.  He was also a wise and practical student of human nature and knew what he said was not  what the patient heard.   My job was finding that out and supporting the patients in any other way I could.  It was not an easy first job for a young social worker, but one that shaped my life afterwards.

One of the first changes was to set me on the strength based path.   As a  social worker I had been taught to be very careful and to worry heaps about the words I chose to use with patients or clients.  The wrong words  from the mouth of any  “expert” were thought to cause serious breakdowns.  All with advanced degrees  were deemed that powerful.   My tenure with Dr. Peterson taught me otherwise.  True, at times it could seem a professional’s mistakes caused patient/client breakdown.  However, what I learned on the radiology service was how rare a breakdown  followed hearing you were facing death in the near future.

We hear what we need to hear, what we can handle hearing, and rarely do words alone create breakdowns.  I worked with several hundred patients during my partnership with Dr. Peterson; only one fell apart hearing she had cancer.  Ironically, she was a patient with a  good prognosis; she apparently needed to hear other wise.   So it goes.

The couple first described in the article above had a strength some might feel was singular  in the way they approached death.  I assure you such strength is far more common than not.  What hurts more is the loneliness of not being heard.

My staying strong tips related to this:

  1. As the AA people suggest one should ” Say what you mean, mean what you say, butdo  not  say it mean.”
  2. Once you have had your say, watch for the response.  The heart of communication is response.  Know what you said is not necessarily what the other person heard.
  3.  Good communication involves  knowing if  you are invested in a power struggle to get your view accepted.  Sometimes reality dictates forcing an issue; most often not.  If a patient of Dr. Peterson’s did not accept enough of what the good doctor said about the prescribed course of treatment to follow the treatment regime, s/he needed a reality check; otherwise their different beliefs did not need to  be challenged.
  4. Seeking common ground, agreeing where you can, going along to get along are all useful strategies in preserving relationships and if followed by enough people would bring peace to our troubled world.

Keep caring, it works, it matters.

Image  t1.jpg  – Playing the death card

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