The chronic cancer patient -- From someone who knows


My friend Dr. Wendy Harpham has a new book out called Only 10 Seconds to Care: Help and Hope for Busy Clinicians. If you have followed CURE magazine at all, you have read about Wendy and her journey on more than one occasion, and you have also read Wendy's writing on numerous topics concerning cancer and what she has termed "healthy survivorship." In fact, I think of Wendy as the ultimate survivor. She is now approaching 20 years of living with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and has, to date, had seven recurrences and nine separate courses of treatment – always at the crest of the next protocol. Wendy often laughs that when she considers a treatment option, it's usually one that has little or no history – meaning it's in early clinical trial stages. But because of her courage, many other people have been able to take advantage of newer treatments. She has a great cartoon that she shows when she speaks about being one of the first people to receive a "chimeric" (part-human and part-mouse) monoclonal antibody treatment. It's a big mouse sitting on a laboratory exam table, and Wendy added a bubble that has the mouse saying to her doctor and nurse, "David, Tina Marie. It's me: Wendy. Something's gone terribly wrong!" Wendy still maintains her MD license despite the fact that she has not been able to practice since her second recurrence. Ironically, she reaches more people now with her seven books and speaking than she ever did as a internist in Dallas. While Wendy and I both live in Dallas, we actually met at a National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship conference in Charlotte in 1992. She was two years out from her diagnosis and I was six. Wendy's first book was just out and mine, The Breast Cancer Companion, was on the way. It was one of those "me too" discussions."I'm writing a book.""Me too.""I have an 8-year-old daughter.""Me too."But then Wendy outdid me. Not only did she have an 8-year-old, she had a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. Then we did what many mothers with cancer do, we talked about the fear of not raising our children and not being there for the special days in their lives. Wendy and I have never talked on the phone without updating each other on our children's accomplishments, not to brag but to celebrate yet another milestone of parenting.Wendy has continued to publish. Next came After Cancer. Then she wrote When a Parent has Cancer, which had a wonderful little book for children that Becca and her mom wrote called Becky and the Worry Cup tucked inside the back cover. She co-authored The Hope Tree and then wrote my favorite of her books, Happiness in a Storm, which tackles how you live knowing that any day the symptoms of recurrence could pop up yet again. How do you live with death so near? How do you live with joy and happiness and passion with death so near? Wendy does it every day.Her latest book is a bit different. Wendy has been doing a regular column for an oncology journal for practitioners for the past few years because, as she explains in the introduction, she is in a unique position of seeing common dilemmas from both sides of the stethoscope. Wendy understands the psyche of physicians and writes to clinicians with the understanding that they want to be considerate and caring. But she also understands and responds to the enormous time pressures today's physicians feel. So the stories in the book illustrate words and actions that take only seconds but can make a world of difference to patients. But Wendy also cannot help herself in that all she writes translates to the survivor community. Because of this, the book is equally useful for survivors who don't know the pressure physicians feel. It helps us too, to understand how clinicians function and why, sometimes, they act like they do when they misspeak or make missteps that hurt us. Wendy is doing well now, having achieved yet another remission from treatment that ended in late 2007. She speaks and writes for us and her engaged living serves to remind us all that being a chronic cancer survivor as she is can still be a life filled with riches and giving. Thank you Wendy. Watch for an excerpt from Only 10 Seconds to Care in our winter issue. Or buy it for yourself now anywhere books are sold. To keep up with Wendy and being a healthy survivor, go to her blog on healthy survivorship at

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