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Conversing with Cancer

How to Ask Questions, Find and Share Information, and Make the Best Decisions

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Lisa Sparks and Anna Leahy

With more than 40% of people eventually facing a cancer diagnosis, Conversing with Cancer is a much-needed addition to understanding and improving cancer care through strong communication among providers, patients, and caregivers. Each person whose life is affected by a cancer diagnosis—patient, healthcare provider, caregiver—has information and needs information in order to make the best decisions possible under the circumstances. After studying and writing about the topics of communication and cancer for many years separately, authors Lisa Sparks and Anna Leahy combine their expertise in this new tour de force. Here, they apply principles from the field of health communication to the cancer care experience, drawing from a wide range of scholarship to offer a comprehensive view of cancer care communication and extend existing work into new insights. Engaging chapters cover all phases of the journey through cancer, from prevention to recovery or end-of-life; analyze the roles of the variety of cultural and social identities and relationships; and explore written, verbal, non-verbal, and electronic communication. In addition, this book draws from the real-life stories of cancer patients themselves to enrich the book’s unique discussions and to better understand how theory can be put into practice. Conversing with Cancer is ideal for use in health communication classes, medical and nursing programs, and formal caregiver training. In addition, it is useful for cancer patient and caregiver supports groups and for individual providers, patients, and caregivers.

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Chapter 7. What’s Up, Doc?: Patients and Healthcare Providers in Conversation

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What’s Up, Doc?

Patients and Healthcare Providers in Conversation



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Kelly Corrigan wanted the physician who read her mammogram films to recognize her panic and alleviate her worries. She became so stressed out as he stood in front of the lightbox displaying images of her breasts that she started grinding her teeth. Her physician wanted a biopsy quickly, but Corrigan was struggling to prioritize her questions and couldn’t process all of the information at once.

Kelly Corrigan’s (2008) physician said that he was “very concerned about the—well, the mass” (p. 24). He pointed to the image of her breast and told her that he was scheduling her for a core needle biopsy that week. She tried to take in all the information quickly, including the size of the mass. The physician used the word explosion to describe it. One can imagine that such language, along with a cancer diagnosis, would be startling to most patients. Corrigan (2008) was very aware that this provider–patient interaction was uncomfortable for both of the individuals involved. She recalls in her memoir The Middle Place, “I can see my reaction is making Dr. White uneasy but not so uneasy that he offers up any hope. He doesn’t say ‘Oh, I see I have alarmed you…’ He doesn’t say ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself.’ He doesn’t say ‘Many times, these mammogram films are misleading’” (p. 24). In the moment,...

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