Grief from a Patient's Perspective

We are excited to introduce this outstanding guest blogger. Robert Lederer is a retired pediatrician with an extremely impressive resume, including serving on the board of the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners, serving as vice-president for three years, volunteering as a pediatrician at a homeless shelter for 25 years and camp physician at Geneva Glen Camp for 25 years. His professional interests are in physician quality and assessment and his current hobbies are caring for his youngest grandchildren and helping do minor maintenance for his son’s small business.

Robert shares his perspective on grief with a unique insight as a patient and a physician. Reading this, we will understand a little better why Acceptance is the hardest stage.

The Stages of Grief are the Same

Picture of Bob

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer 17 years ago. For ten years, everyone used the word “cured” for my successful treatment. Seven years ago, I learned it was metastatic and not curable, but treatable. I was shocked that my previously healthy body now contained a cancer and it would change my life forever.

I struggled with my own feelings and emotions but being a scientist, I armed myself with as much information as possible. I read several blog sites daily and keep up on all the literature. My scientific side was okay. My emotional side was kept well hidden by “keeping busy” with “things”. Luckily, I belong to a Men’s Support group where it is safe to share one’s true feelings. It helped me through many down times.

Once while talking to a long-term friend who had recently gone through two treatments for a rare form of cancer, she shared with me a helpful suggestion. Look at the diagnosis of cancer in yourself using the same stages of grief that Kubler-Ross used in her great work on understanding grief. Wow, it fit me perfectly but no one who was/is treating me shared what to expect.

Robert (Bob) with his grandchildren during "Movember" - an annual campaign during the month of November to raise awareness and money for men's health worldwide. Bob finds comfort in fundraising for research and feels it is a positive way to work through grief.

Robert (Bob) with his grandchildren during "Movember" - an annual campaign during the month of November to raise awareness and money for men's health worldwide. Bob finds comfort in fundraising for research and feels it is a positive way to work through grief.

The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When you hear the word “cancer” as a patient, everything else turns off. Your mind fixates on that word. It is why it is so important to bring someone else along for the critical doctor visits. In retrospect, I experienced all five stages of grief at the time of diagnosis and especially at the time I learned that it had metastasized. For the patient and for grievers in a family, ACCEPTANCE is the hardest by far.

If you know someone newly diagnosed with any type of cancer, it is important to meet them wherever they are on the pathway of grief and not always offer gratuitous advice, but sometimes just listen with compassion. Women do this much more naturally than men who are taught from early in life to not show their emotions.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be

changed until it is faced."

--James Baldwin,

American novelist, essayist, playwright and poet