Cancer at your Fingertips: all your questions answered about living with cancer

Reviewed by:


M Rosenfield and V Speechley
Published by McGraw-Hill Companies Inc
ISBN:  0-0747-1372-8.  191 pages plus index.
RRP:  A$29.95


This book has been written specifically for Australian and New Zealand readers. It is refreshing to read information pertinent to local conditions, including detailed appendices listing useful contacts for support and information. The book is written for any member of the community who has experienced cancer and is designed to be “dipped into” rather than read from cover-to-cover. This means that there is some repetition, but given the aim of the book this is unavoidable unless complex cross-referencing is done, which would be cumbersome for the general reader.

The text follows essentially a chronological approach, describing what is known in general about cancer and the means by which it is diagnosed. The section on treatment is clearly articulated, explaining in practical terms the treatment modalities commonly employed. There is a large chapter on complementary therapies, reflecting the aim of the authors to respond to questions frequently asked by patients. This section provides a balanced overview of many complementary therapies, appropriately indicating that many techniques such as relaxation and meditation can be effectively employed to assist in coping with pain or anxiety. The chapter on follow-up incorporates many practical issues such as physical activity, coping with prostheses or aids and more personal matters such as sexuality and anxiety about cancer recurrence. Throughout these sections the authors have maintained a balanced approach, acknowledging the difficulties without downplaying their impact, but pointing to potential sources of assistance and offering hope of improving adjustment over time.

The penultimate chapter on life after cancer covers many issues raised previously in the book, including potential contributions to the development of cancer and expands to consider employment, leisure activities and insurance. It is very welcome to see an approach suggesting that the individual reclaim physical activity in a measured way, whilst explicitly stating that expression of emotion about the experience is appropriate and helpful.

In an earlier chapter, the authors have indicated that there is no clear evidence that stress causes cancer, but have missed the opportunity in this section to advise patients that “forcing” themselves to be positive with the hope that this will help them to survive the disease is not supported by evidence and often poses a considerable burden. The final chapter encompasses disease progression and terminal illness, in a balanced and sensitive manner.

Overall this book will be of considerable use to the person newly diagnosed with cancer, their family or friends. One disappointment in the material covered is the failure to broach the subject of depression and anxiety.

The authors have attempted to respond to the questions commonly raised by patients and perhaps patients are less likely to ask about feeling depressed. However, depressed mood is a common but treatable problem in many cancer populations and some debunking of myths about depression being “just an understandable reaction” would have been helpful.

In general, however, the book gives information easily intelligible for the non-scientific reader, covering a broad range of issues within a local context. 

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