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A Long Walk Home

The author gives a vivid and instructional account of what it is like to be dying from cancer at the age of just 25

The author gives a vivid and instructional account of what it is like to be dying from cancer at the age of just 25

This is a book written by Rachel Clark, a 25-year-old occupational psychologist/management consultant, after she was diagnosed with and treated for a head and neck cancer.

She was initially diagnosed and treated in Australia and wrote the book soon after her return to the UK.

Several aspects of the book make it particularly interesting.

The book was unfinished and written from the perspective of someone who knew she had a serious illness with poor prognosis, but had not had to face the reality of being told that there was no further treatment.

After Rachel's death, the book was completed by her twin sister who also commissioned a GP and a psychologist to write a chapter looking at the messages for health professionals to be found within Rachel's description of her medical care.

Rachel's account of her illness is honest, moving and witty.

She describes the shock to a healthy young person of being diagnosed with cancer.

She views the process from the point of view of a previously autonomous young woman, used to making important decisions based on full information.

She pulls no punches in recounting the errors in communication and organisation throughout. Mistakes should not happen but they do.

There is no easy way to tell a young woman that she has cancer, but being seen by a doctor who assumed that she already knew the diagnosis was a terrible way to find out.

Her descriptions of the euphemisms used and use of technical terms with an assumption that she understood them make educational reading for all health professionals.

The ‘medical' chapter looks at how some of the ideas about consultation models and sharing information might have allowed her to remain a person involved in and understanding the management of her condition.

The authors acknowledge that none of these improvements would have changed the eventual outcome but that the lessons that can be learned from Rachel's account might allow doctors to help other patients retain their humanity.

I think all GPs, and other health professionals could learn from and enjoy this book.

It would be particularly useful for doctors early in their training to give them a flavour of what terminal illness really involves for the person who becomes the patient.

Dr Clare Etherington

Rating: 4.5/5

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