When Life Becomes Precious:
A Guide for Loved Ones and Friends of Cancer Patients
By Elise Needell Babcock
Bantam Books, 1997
ISBN 0553378694 $14.95
Reviewed by Julie Edell
When Life Becomes Precious: A Guide for Loved Ones and Friends of Cancer Patients is a 275-page guidebook that gives advice on how to interact with cancer patients. Written by Elise Needell Babcock, a 23-year cancer counselor and the daughter of a lung cancer survivor, the book is written with a high degree of understanding the needs of cancer patients. When Life Becomes Precious addresses the uncertainty and fears that those who want to support these patients face. It is a caring and practical resource that is designed to help those who interact with cancer patients.
When Life Becomes Precious contains 13 chapters and a list of resources. Several chapters are written for the partner of the patient and focus on family issues. For example, "Eleven Common Reactions: Understanding Your Feelings When Cancer Strikes Someone You Love" is designed for close family members to help them realize that before they can be of help to their loved one, they must cope with their own feelings. "Giving Without Giving Out: A Primary Caregiver's Guide to Well-Being" helps caregivers give themselves permission to meet their own needs and offers concrete suggestions on how to do that. For example, it has a section for caregivers on ways to deal with their own and the loved one's anger toward cancer, how to handle unwanted advice, and how to get the help that is needed.
When Life Becomes Precious also presents chapters designed to guide the patient and his or her family through the challenges cancer patients face in the medical world. Suggestions include how to ask the doctor to define medical terms and how to discuss second opinions. My favorite part of these chapters is a discussion with doctors about what families do that drive them crazy (not participating in the care being provided, being rude to the staff) and behaviors they most appreciate (patients who come prepared with written questions, saying thank you, families who want to work as a team with the doctor).
I first read this book shortly after my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996. It helped me as a reluctant newcomer to the cancer world. People want to help cancer survivors and yet we often feel unprepared in knowing how. Here is where When Life Becomes Precious can help.
Julie Edell is a member of CCA's Board of Directors.