Carrie is a 72-year-old retired real estate agent with a high school education. She raised three kids, but they do not talk to her anymore.  Since her husband died, Carrie has lived alone.  A melanoma was removed from her right shoulder 2 years ago.  In my office, we stare at the CT scan display of a mass in her right lung. “What does that mean?” “Well, we wouldn’t know for sure until ...

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It was 1:35 p.m. when we realized that Tom was not just late for his chemotherapy treatment; he probably would not show up at all.  A call from one of our staff confirmed, he had “troubles getting a ride” and wanted to move the vital therapy to another day.  This was the third time in a month he had missed an appointment, thus wasting a treatment slot, nursing time and ...

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What do we want in the last days of life?  We want no pain. We want simple dignity, the physical kind where we clean ourselves, organize our medicine and command our bowels.  As important is the complex dignity of choosing where we spend our final days, make tough decisions for ourselves and, as much as possible, live as a person, not a patient.  It occurs to me that these critical ...

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The United States of America is addicted to narcotics.  I do not mean the millions of individuals who are hooked.  I mean the whole nation is jonesing for the stuff.  I also do not mean the junk that slips into our nation in coffee cans or across midnight borders.  I mean the billions of pills pouring off assembly lines.  I could blame pharma or the FDA, but the truth is ...

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Three months ago, Anne finished chemotherapy.  She is tired, overweight, anxious and her feet burn.  Anne sleeps poorly, cannot concentrate at work and her relationship with her husband is distant, let alone intimate.  In my office for a “survivor’s” visit, Anne asked the glaring question. “Will I recover?  Will I ever be the same?”  After a moment of thought I answer, “I hope not.” Okay, I was not really that cold.  ...

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His wife thinks he looks like Tom Cruise.  There is a resemblance, I can see him riding a motorcycle off the side of a burning building, jaw fixed, eyes on fire, ready to save the damsel ... only he is not so short.  Funny, brilliant and genuine, we have known each other for exactly two decades, sharing the growth of our families, the anxieties of middle age, and the vicissitudes ...

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As I look back, I remember teachers.  One taught to be compulsive and complete.  Another, calm and humor in the face of chaos.  Another believed in me and thereby taught me to believe in myself.  One made me write and rewrite.  Above all, there was a mentor who opened my heart and eyes to the need for compassion.  That special teacher was Dr. Black. Tuesday afternoon, 8:30am, July 12, 1966:  Dr. ...

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America is one of the sickest places on earth.  We have the best diabetic care, but the most diabetes.  First-rate cardiac care, but we are obese, hypertensive, inactive, and have high rates of heart disease.  We are the world’s standard for cancer technology, innovation and access, but we have high cancer rates even while we waste most of the money from cigarette taxes on road repairs.  At every socioeconomic level, ...

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Hegira: To take flight to escape.  To travel from a place of danger to a place of safety. “You have cancer.” You hear the words.  Your mind does not understand. “You have cancer.” Shock.  Distance.  Isolation.  Someone else.  A mistake.  A lie.  Bizarre, strange, you float above the room.  Everyone speaks; nothing is said. “You have cancer.” A fog-like curse, a venomous reality, a phantom idea.  A cold ghost foreign to the soul.  I must run. ...

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Sometimes it seems that life is unfair and the odds are stacked incredibly against us.  More than 1 in 3 persons will get cancer.  The chance of survival if you get lung, pancreatic or brain tumors is pathetically small.  The most common cancer in 20 to 30-year-olds is the deadly beast melanoma. We have no easy or effective early detection for most cancers. However, there are remarkable stories of hope.  Here ...

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