Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Letter is in the Mail

I'm pleased to report that earlier today, my sister placed the following signed letter in a mailbox near my parents' house and it will go out in tomorrow's mail. If we're lucky, it will force Dr. It's-All-About-the-Tumors to pause. If we're really lucky, he'll rethink some of his ways and maybe, just maybe, make some positive changes to ease the path of other families whose loved ones are under his care. (Earlier versions of this letter can be found here and here.)

Here's hoping...
Our Childhood Home
Suburban, New Jersey 08873

June 28, 2010

It’s-All-About-the-Tumors, M.D.
Whoop-de-Doo Oncology Practice
205 Main Drag through College Part of Town
Suburban, New Jersey 08901

Dear Dr. It’s-All-About-the-Tumors:

We are writing to inform you that DianatheWriter passed away peacefully and apparently in no pain over Memorial Day weekend after 11 days in hospice. As you may be aware, a number of years ago, when she heard you speak, she was so impressed by your commitment to quality of life for terminally ill patients and their families that when she came to have need of an oncologist herself, you were her first and only choice. And, although we cannot begin to comprehend the virulence of her disease or the speed with which it ravaged her body, the long weeks that led to this sad outcome did give us ample reminders of some of life’s most important lessons. We have chosen to share a few of these with you now in the hope that you will make a stronger commitment to provide compassionate care to family members of these very same terminally ill patients.

We are fortunate to be a strong and loving family whose members care deeply about each other, especially when one of us is ill. As such, we repeatedly sought out honest, realistic, forthright, and regularly forthcoming assessments about DianatheWriter’s illness, especially at critical junctures in the treatment process. Sadly, it was difficult to obtain such assessments from you, and even when we did, they were, with rare exceptions, conveyed by telephone only. Never were we afforded an opportunity to sit with you face-to-face to hear your thoughts and garner your insights.

We learned that nurses and social workers often are the best conduits of information from physicians, but only when these professionals can read doctors’ handwriting. Sadly, on numerous occasions, they were unable to read yours, leaving us without up-to-date information and—perhaps more important—opening the door to the very real possibility that patient treatment and care, DianatheWriter’s or others’, might be compromised.

Through the kind words and gestures of most of DianatheWriter’s physicians and caregivers, we were reminded about the value of dignity and respect for all people, but most especially for those whose lives are drawing to a close. We were reminded, too, about compassion and kindness and how crucial they are to those of us walking a path of loss. When you called to recommend hospice and inform us that your office would make all the necessary arrangements, how consoled we might have been had you offered us a few brief words of comfort, of sympathy, of support. Sadly, they were glaringly absent.

Henceforth, we will carry these lessons in our hearts as a lasting tribute to DianatheWriter and her well lived life. It is our hope that as you continue to deal with the families of terminally ill patients, you, too, will carry these lessons in your heart and, more important, will make them the work of your hands.


JanetheWriter's Father
JanetheWriter's Sister


  1. I think it turned out well. I hope it has an impact on him...

  2. If I were that doctor, I would come knocking on your door and beg on my knees for forgiveness after reading that letter. Very well put--I'm glad you got more specific. I think there's a good chance this will impact his/her further behavior, even if he/she isn't sufficiently moved to apologize to you.