Cancer Communication Research Center

“I don’t want Judy to think I’m abandoning her”


The New York Times posted a blog last month about doctors who treat cancer patients and the emotional toll it can have on them. The author spoke with several doctors who have experienced difficulty when they have a patient who is not responding to treatment and dies from their illness. When doctors are faced with challenges, they sometimes resort to more treatment as a solution. But as one doctor realized, what some patients need is not more treatment, but to be comforted and cared for in their final days. As a result, the doctor also needs comfort for the loss of their patient.

The emotional toll that doctors face in these cases are not always addressed. Doctors are suffering along with their patients and may experience "secondary post-traumatic stress disorder, or vicarious traumatization-trauma suffered when someone close to you is suffering."

After reading this, I thought back to Dr. Nekhlyudov's blog on November 20, where she discussed her experiences as a doctor and the importance of saying good-bye to patients. In her blog, she wrote about her experiences and frustrations that occur between patients and care providers and the importance of palliative care. Additionally, in a recent article from Michigan State University, researchers found that the relationship between patient and provider not only builds trust, but can also increase their tolerance for pain.

These stories all reflect just how important the patient-provider relationship is. Patients need to be able to trust their physicians, not only with their treatment, but also in their recognition that treatment may not be working. Physicians need to be comfortable with the idea that the only thing they can do is make the patient comfortable. Additionally, physicians need to understand the emotional toll a loss of the patient has on them and reaching out for their own comfort. The key to all of this is communication.

Michelle Henton
Senior Research Assistant, CCRC

Written by CCRC at 09:39




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