From Both Ends of the Stethoscope by Dr Kathleen Thompson is a very important book. Written from the fresh perspective of someone who has spent their career looking after others, it details everything from the initial worries about the symptoms of Breast Cancer to the eventual diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s difficult to not immediately think of the negatives when we hear the C world and often the Dr’s are so busy trying to treat multiple people that they forget to understand that you’re not a trained professional and don’t understand all the jargon and medical terms. Kathleen has written this book that offers both personal insight, thoughts and feelings that she experienced at her most difficult times and at the end of each chapter offers a synopsis that explains various things in laymen’s terms. This book would act as a guide to those living with cancer and their friends and families. I was fortunate enough to get some time with this inspiring woman, here’s what she had to say.
- You say in your book that the biggest lesson you learnt is that a diagnosis of cancer doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence – what advice would you give to those who assume it it? I would explain that many people survive cancer and are cured. Even for those who will not be cured, many are still able to live a fulfilling life, sometimes for years. Believe it or not there are many other ways of dying which are equally unpleasant and sometimes worse than cancer and it is important that we make the most of every moment of life, regardless of what the future holds, because none of us knows what is around the corner.
- In the second chapter you explain cancer and cell growth in a really simple way – was it explained to you in this way or was it something you wanted to offer people reading the book? This is something I know from my own background in research medicine and which I felt was important to share with people. Explaining cancer to people helps them understand how to avoid it or deal with it.
- Your writing, for me, seemed to capture the way your world has been turned upside down but everything else is going on as normal – did everyway seem that way pre-diagnosis? My world certainly did turn upside-down with the diagnosies. What I had considered as set in stone was swept away in minutes.
- The summaries at the end of each chapter are very informative and concise – was the information told to you in this way as a patient or did it vary from Dr to Dr? (I noticed it varied as the book went on – some of the Dr’s gave it to you straight like Dr Grant) You are quite right, the way I was given information varied greatly. I wouldn’t say anybody gave me the information in the way I do in the book, but this is how I like to give it. People going through cancer, either as patients or close friends/relatives are in a state of shock and need to be presented with the information as simply as possible so they can absorb it. I find summaries help with this.
- You mention how our British traits prevent us from speaking up about our care – do you think this comes from a place of fear? I think it is mainly cultural, however I think there is an underlying fear that if you cause trouble your medical care will suffer. I don’t believe this fear is rational, but it is real.
- You advise people to be demanding and assertive about getting a second opinion – do you think this is important to people going through any treatment? Absolutely, let me be clear, most people will receive good care first time around, and won’t need a second opinion. However, whatever your illness, it is imperative that you don’t accept medical decisions which you believe may be flawed. Mistakes do happen and you do need to stand up for yourself when necessary.
- Finally, how’s life been since your treatment and do you have any last words of advice for people who may have received a diagnosis or their family members? Strangely, having had cancer has had a positive effect on me in many ways. Whereas in the past I would always find a reason not to do something because it was a waste of money/time etc etc, I am not much more aware that we know what is around the corner, and one should grab opportunities. Since having cancer I have been to a friend’s wedding in Barbados and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and cycled in the mountains in Kerala. Last words of advice – think positively but realistically. Do your own research into the illness, using reputable internet sites, and form your own opinions so that you can be confident you are being managed well.
From Both Ends of the Stethoscope is published by Faito Books and is available from Amazon (RRP £6.99) And all good bookshops (RRP £12.99)