Title: The Topic of Cancer
Edited by: Jonathan Burke
Reviewer: Robert Becker, independent lecturer in palliative care
What was it like?
The idea came for this book arose from a series of successful seminars on “The Topic of Cancer” and a request for the contributors to develop their talks into a broad based series of chapters. The result is a fascinating multi-authored book, which dares to tread where few others walk – into the raw emotional experience of cancer written about from many different perspectives. In doing so it rightly challenges us to focus our thinking on how we approach and deal with our patients who are dealing the effects of this debilitating disease. It brings together a veritable “who’s who” of experienced and respected professionals into eleven diverse and well written chapters.
What were the highlights?
Its psychoanalytical stance does make some chapters difficult to digest, but for nurses’ chapter three on children and chapter six on the impact of dealing with cancer on the clinical nurse specialist are well worth reading. The latter in particular as it offers an honest and insightful account of the emotional stresses involved in shouldering the emotional burdens inherent with complex family situations: a perspective that is rarely explored and through the use of several carefully crafted vignettes, lends the text a real gravitas.
Equally, Jonathan Wittenberg’s chapter on the more spiritual aspects of the emotions seen when dealing with cancer should be required reading for all health professionals. He writes with raw honesty, humility and wisdom without proselytising and draws the reader in to give a truly evocative insight into the difficult work of the hospital chaplain. Lastly, the concluding chapter on the cancer memoir or “pathography” as it’s become known gives the reader a useful and interesting analysis of this growing medium of self expression. It covers everything from the celebrity book through to teenage blogs and facebook; a really incisive study of this new cultural phenomenon.
Strengths & weaknesses:
I found the chapters on survivorship and palliative care disappointing in that while their inclusion is important they offered no new insights into the emotional experience beyond what can easily be found in many other books and articles.
But overall, I found this book to be a real smorgasbords of tastes, some bland, some fulfilling and others inspirational as is often the nature of a multi-authored text. I applaud the editors’ initiative in tackling this difficult area and it undoubtedly has a useful place on the shelves of health care libraries. Most nurses, however, will, I feel use only elective chapters for professional interest or reference material in their studies rather than purchase it outright.
Who should read it?
This book will appeal to a number of health professionals including mental health practitioners who work with cancer, oncological nurses, clinical specialists and those wishing to broaden their insights beyond the bio medical model of care.