A personal account of a doctor's struggle to survive cancer and its aftermath

2008-07-23 00:00

This book is the first-person account of a doctor’s struggle with two lethal cancers. As a medical practitioner, Ivan Cohen was very aware that any delay in obtaining appropriate treatment could be fatal. Choosing not to be a victim, he did everything possible to increase his chances of survival, enlisting the aid of the finest specialists in South Africa and abroad, keeping himself fully up to date with scientific literature on the subject and taking charge of those aspects of his life that he could control. The deep depressions following diagnosis and major surgery took him by surprise, affecting not only him and the progress of his healing, but also his family relationships, which were extraordinarily close.

As the blurb says, the book “highlights the importance of empathetic doctor-patient relationships and the power of hope in life-threatening disease.” The blurb adds that it is “an inspiration”.

Well, perhaps. Certainly it’s inspiring to read of someone so passionately determined to live that he boldly submits himself to the drastic treatments prescribed and soldiers through them in a remarkably positive spirit, despite their often painful and debilitating effects and the bouts of depression. However, the average person afflicted by serious illness is not able, as Cohen is, to pick and choose among physicians and oncologists, or to make well-informed decisions about treatment. And, often at the mercy of less than “empathetic” medical professionals, many might not, either, be able to find their way to the kind of helpful psychiatrists and psychologists who supported Cohen through his dark and fearful days. Many, too, might feel both envious and demoralised on reading of Cohen’s warm, loving and supportive family. They’re certainly essential to his survival, but it’s a pity he decided to fatten this otherwise slim volume with largely redundant chapters by several of them.

Not really a cover-to-cover read, this, but a book to dip into as needed, with a useful bibliography and index and a valuable chapter at the end on self-help, with special emphasis on dietary measures to help in cancer prevention.

Stephanie Alexander

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