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A health professional in the family

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

A Health Professional in the Family

Sooner or later, someone in your family will be diagnosed with cancer. If you’re a doctor, nurse, scientist, or other health professional, you may feel obligated to help that person navigate through the decisions that need to be made. In my experience, health professionals better serve their loved ones by being loved ones and not by being medical guides. There are several reasons for this:

  • Unless you’re an oncologist, what you know about cancer is out-of-date and probably inaccurate.
  • Because you’re a health professional, your loved ones might assume that you know what’s best and automatically defer to your recommendations. Or they might follow your recommendations simply because they don’t want to disappoint you.
  • Health professionals often search the Internet and call their colleagues to find out what can be done. What can be done isn’t always what should be done. Don’t assume that the most aggressive treatment is the best treatment for your loved one.


Most importantly, when health professionals spend their time researching the latest treatment options, they aren’t spending quality time with the person with cancer. Through the years, I’ve heard several clients say, “I wish he would put away his computer and just come sit with me.”

The universal wish of people with cancer is to have steadfast support. They don’t want their loved one to fix the cancer – they want their loved one to be with them for whatever comes. This is as true when the loved one is a health professional as for anyone else.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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