Hope was right.
She had breast cancer and within a few short weeks, she started her chemotherapy, which she is still currently undergoing. To encourage women to check their breasts more frequently – and, to show people what cancer is really like – the British nurse began an Instagram diary, documenting her journey.
Funny and self-deprecating, her diary has gained popularity; but it has also been described as having “gross detail”. "It's an honest account. Sometimes, I go into some gross detail; but, why not? It's happening,” expresses Hope. Explaining her decision to post aspects of her ordeal – including pink urine, nausea and relentless pain and exhaustion – Hope says, “I want to make it a lot less scary for others facing the same thing.”
Doctors not discussing the impact of treatment are ‘guilty’ of being part of the problemHope’s intention behind her endeavour brings to light the fact that doctors often do not share with patients some of the side effects they are likely to experience from chemotherapy – aside from hair loss. "People get cancer all the time, but they don't really like talking about it. I think being blunt about it makes people think, actually, it just happens all the time,” shares Hope.
In fact, a study published in 2007 in the journal Drug Safety, found that over 60% of patients who complained of side effects from a particular drug, said, “their doctors did not appreciate the impact the symptoms had on their quality of life.”
Health policy professor from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, Albert W. Wu explains that doctors “have the bad habit of discounting patients’ complaints. In our desire not to worry patients unduly, to persuade them to take their medications as directed, and perhaps because we are pressed for time, we may, at times, dismiss the problems they mention.”
However, this can lead to several problems. Firstly, this behaviour does not adequately prepare patients for the long and arduous journey that treatment for any long-term condition can be. Additionally, not only are patients made to feel undervalued at the dismissal – but undermining the side effects can also run the risk of serious health concerns being ignored.
This can also put a tremendous amount of pressure on patients who may find themselves facing far more problems and having a far harder time than they were told they would. This can pressure patients to feel as though they should not complain and share their concerns about these experiences with the doctor.
Patients should also not be forced to feel like they have to be positive about their illness all the time. Hope’s Instagram chronicles the many days during which she simply naps and cries until she feels better.
Improving the way doctors broach the topic of ‘impacts involved’ in treatmentBasing the physician-patient relationship on the principle that everyone is entitled to have full information on his or her heath status opens the door to a relationship in which the patient is an equal partner.
This not only means they are provided with enough information to make the decision they deem best for themselves – it can also empower the patient and make them feel more confident, positive and strong enough to deal with all the side effects treatment for a disease can bring.
Thanks to the power of the Internet – where unprecedented amount of health information is within reach – most patients are better informed. Acknowledging this and frankly telling the patient that they may have a tough experience – can lead to honest conversations on quality of life.
Not only will this help healing; but like Hope, patients can view their experience of the illness more realistically – with a view to not only deal with the worst, but also in a manner that reduces the impact on their daily lives. MIMS
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