by Lidia Schapira MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Ann Partridge MD, MPH, Dana Farber Cancer Institute; Shoshana Rosenberg, MPH Dana Farber Cancer Institute; Katherine Ruddy MD, Mayo Clinic; Steven Come MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital
Established in 2006, Helping Ourselves, Helping Others (HOHO): the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Study has enrolled more than 1,300 women who were 40 years or younger at the time of their diagnosis of breast cancer. These women were recruited from many participating institutions including Dana- Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, University of Colorado, Mayo Clinic, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada, as well as several affiliated community cancer centers. Led by Dr. Ann Partridge at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, many researchers are actively contributing to advance our understanding of the particular concerns faced by young women, to identify biological and psychological issues that require more research and that define the lived experience of young patients and survivors.
During my years of training to become a hematologist-oncologist, I was privileged to observe senior physicians interact with their patients. I often wondered how these conversations would impact on the way each patient coped with his or her diagnosis, and how they would be remembered. Attending physicians had very different bedside ‘manners’ and it soon became apparent that some felt comfortable with emotional expression while others were reserved and distant. It is as hard to find words of comfort during bad news conversations as it is to devise a treatment plan for acute leukemia. I wondered too about conversations with roommates, assigned by chance, and about the casual chatter with the individual delivering a breakfast tray or taking out the trash. I appreciated the fundamental role of nurses, present at the bedside far longer than anyone else, listening, debriefing and providing counsel, and whose job involved the most basic and representative of all empathic acts: touch.