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Nothing personal-disturbing undercurrents in cancer care

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Title: Nothing personal-disturbing undercurrents in cancer care

Author: Mitzi Blennerhassett

Publisher: Radcliffe Publishing

Reviewer: Rebecca Bailey-McHale, community health nurse, Department of Health Isle of Man


What was it like?

“Nothing personal” is part of the Radcliffe patient narrative series and demonstrates what a powerful medium this is. This is one of the most humbling and emotive books that I have read in a long time. It packs a huge punch and puts the person back into the patient. The book follows Mitzi’s journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival.  The author shows in a skilful manner how Mitzi the person and Mitzi the patient have to learn to face the reality of cancer and its inevitable fallout. At times the book was difficult to read, evoking as it did a sense of professional shame. I found myself wanting to ask the nurses and doctors “why aren’t you listening?” “What about her pain?”  My frustration and dismay begins when her journey begins and continues on Mitzi’s behalf as each chapter romps on horrifically demonstrating her further dehumanisation.  Mitzi learns to channel her own frustrations and by the end of the book, has found her voice and receives acknowledgement and recognition of the atrocious lack of empathy and compassion she experienced.  She eventually finds her place in a number of committees and organisations in which she is able to represent the silenced voices of other patients. As a professional I can seek some solace in that Mitzi’s experience occurred 20 years ago. In the last 20 years huge improvements have been made placing communication as a key skill for all health and social care professionals. The last few chapters show Mitzi’s increasing presence in service user representation and reflect the strides made in putting the patient at the centre of their care. Although the story happened two decades ago, the message to professionals is as strong as ever for us it is our work life but for the patient it is literally their whole life.


What were the highlights? 

Each chapter contains a collection of poems written by Mitzi, which bring a personal and emotional touch. At the end of each chapter is a discussion section that explores through questions and answers some of the most traumatic features described in the chapter.  Every section concludes with a “what needed to change” reflection, where Mitzi is able to identify how her experience could have been made better and how the professionals involved could have contributed to this.

Strengths & weaknesses:

It is easy to get absorbed in this book; it is well written and easy to access.  It has an in depth reference list and further reading section.  There are a number of drawings completed by Mitzi which add to the personal narrative. The only weakness I encountered is the bleak picture it portrays of the relationship between practitioner and patient with little acknowledgement of the improvements made in the intervening years.

Who should read it?

Any health and social care professional. Anybody with an interest in patient care.

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