Healing Hope: Through and Beyond Cancer by Wendy S. Harpham, MD, FACP, is a practical guide on how to continue to have hope at any stage of a cancer diagnosis or after treatment into survivorship. Harpham, a cancer survivor herself, shares how hope and finding new ways to think about hope enabled her to not only cope with her very own cancer diagnosis, but actually manage her anxiety, deal with new symptoms, and find meaning and happiness while living with the uncertainty of cancer.
Healing Hope: Through and Beyond Cancer begins with defining healthy survivorship. Harpham shares the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship definition of a survivor: “From the time of discovery and for the balance of life, an individual diagnosed with cancer is a survivor.” She states, “A survivor who gets good care and lives as fully as possible is a healthy survivor.”
Each chapter then addresses how a patient can accomplish this goal during and after treatment. The chapters cover knowledge, hope, action, meaning, and happiness. The book is written so that patients can read chapters as they apply or where the specific topic fits in their cancer journey. Each chapter offers sound advice.
For example, in the Knowledge chapter, Harpham addresses reporting symptoms as they occur, how the best news is accurate news, and how a diagnosis can set us free even when it may hurt to learn of it. She tackles the tough subject of statistics and unfavorable statistics, concluding that, “I can always hope for the best possible outcome, no matter how unlikely.” Harpham's final conclusion? “Statistics Schmatistics.”
Hope. This chapter helps to guide patients through various forms of hope including hoping for the best, false hope, and avoiding unrealistic hope. This chapter affirms that no doctors can take away hope. “Like faith and love, hope arises within me. While there's life, I can always have hope for a better tomorrow.” Harpham explains that hope, too, needs recharging. “If there is hope, we have reason to hope. Where there is hope, there is life.”
The chapter on action explains that, “healthy survivorship depends on taking actions that help us heal.” Taking action can be hard at times, and Harpham explains that doing one's best IS good enough. She states that even negative energy can fuel positive action. She even shares “how illness can make smart people do foolish things” like delay needed tests or treatment, but she reminds us that we are human and nobody is perfect.
The chapter about meaning addresses the tough issues for many cancer patients, including how life may feel uncertain, wishing friends and family could understand, and wrestling with survivor guilt. Harpham offers advice on how to triumph over cancer and to “stop waiting to see, but instead, live and see.”
The last chapter regarding happiness affirms that cancer can make happiness seem elusive or unobtainable at times. Harpham devises strategies to find happiness including celebrating false alarms (symptoms that turned out to be nothing), finding humor in tough times, and celebrating today.
Healing Hope: Through and Beyond Cancer is a succinct guide that takes on tough issues and breaks them down into simple concepts with sound advice. Harpham, herself, diagnosed with incurable cancer, shares with us her insight, fears, wisdom, and practical coping strategies in a simple and easy way. She combines her medical knowledge and own personal experience to help others navigate the emotions that a cancer diagnosis may bring. This book would be a wonderful gift for any newly diagnosed cancer patient or a patient completing treatment and worrying about what's next. Healing Hope: Through and Beyond Cancer would be an excellent addition to any oncology waiting room and could help patients cope with the anxiety that cancer produces through and beyond treatment.
KRISTA DOBBIE, MD, is a Palliative Medicine Physician at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.