Book Reviews

A Rehabilitation Expert and Cancer Survivor Offers Healing Inspiration

In her book, Before and After Cancer Treatment: Heal Faster, Better, Stronger, Dr. Julie K. Silver reviews the best evidence for cancer survivors and cites medical experts, making science simple and easy to follow.
October 2015 Vol 1 No 5
Ariana Vora, MD

Julie K. Silver, MD, the Harvard physician who established an international standard for patient-centered cancer rehabilitation, has issued an updated edition of her book, Before and After Cancer Treatment: Heal Faster, Better, Stronger. Dr. Silver writes for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. The book is also for family members and friends who wish to support their loved one.

Science & Humanity

Dr. Silver reviews the best evidence, cites medical experts, and makes the science simple to follow. With a humanistic approach, she weaves in her patients’ vignettes, providing inspiring quotes ranging from Aristotle to Joseph Campbell.

For me, the most emotionally powerful part of the book is Dr. Silver’s compelling voice as she shares her own experience with healing from breast cancer. Her story sets an honest and compassionate tone that endures throughout the book. Her voice and thoughtful, wise presence ring clearly on each page as she speaks to us as a doctor, scientist, patient, spouse, parent, and companion.

This book is an easy, engaging read. Each chapter invites a new layer of discovery. I was informed by practical suggestions and comforted by Dr. Silver’s empathy and encouragement. There are plenty of tips intermingled with clinical information and sound advice, presented in an accessible, no-guilt framework for a positive, self-determined recovery.

Explaining that the physical, emotional, mental, relational, and existential aspects of our suffering, healing, and health are indelibly interconnected, Dr. Silver provides examples of how each aspect affects the other, combining information from psychoneuroimmunology and her own patients’ words.

As a physician who specializes in integrative rehabilitation, I particularly appreciate her holistic approach. Embracing a proactive, self-determined approach, she offers practical suggestions on how to tailor realistic short- and long-term goals for physical healing, emotional healing, and enduring social support. “I want to help you take your healing process as far as it can go,” Dr. Silver says.

You will learn how to navigate physical and emotional setbacks, the minefield of “emotional ambushes” during and after cancer treatment, the common experience of emotional loneliness, and the powerful healing nature of connection and community. You will also understand the normal departure from emotional baseline during and after a crisis, and the contrast between grief and depression. The spiritual aspects of healing from cancer are also explored for those who are open to it.

A Practical Resource

The chapter on prioritizing and pacing recommends using your energy wisely, and devoting it to meaningful activities. You will learn how to create individualized priority lists and refrain from doing anything that is unimportant. Dr. Silver offers everyday suggestions about energy conservation, such as standardizing grocery shopping lists, streamlining chores, using a comfortable chair, and the simple benefits of taking breaks and relaxing.

She also provides instructions on how to easily keep a 3-day log of meaningful versus not meaningful activities and health-related activities, as well as how to organize each day, dividing tiring activities over days or weeks, or ideally delegating them.

The resource guide at the end of the book is a road map of its own. It provides a wealth of resources for education, family healing, financial help, legal help, public service programs, Western and complementary/alternative medicine, institutes, coalitions, and support communities.

Dispelling the Myths

Common myths about conventional cancer treatment are debunked, with an explanation of its historical basis, relevant treatment concepts, and new treatments in development, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapies. Dr. Silver summarizes promising research on the benefits of acupuncture, bodywork, and mind–body practices, and warns of the poor quality controls that plague some unconventional treatments, such as false claims, untrained “practitioners,” and herbal or supplemental products that lack the stated ingredients or contain potentially harmful contents.

Also addressed are ongoing controversies about nutrition, providing practical, evidence-based advice, and discussing the interplay of exercise, rest, and food. Highlighting the role of insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, the author discusses how proper exercise and nutrition can reduce free radicals, and how immunomodulation may inhibit tumor growth.

Relationships & Cancer

The chapter “Love and Be Loved” prepares you for the possible effects of cancer treatment on relationships, emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy, providing practical tips for creating opportunities for relationships to flourish, sensual touch, gravity-assisted sexual positions, and nonsexual intimacy.

Dr. Silver advises telling children honest information about the diagnosis, plan, prognosis, and what to expect, providing specific guidelines about how to do this with an age-appropriate approach. She highlights the advice of leading child psychiatrists about the importance of a predictable schedule, family time, and communication with children.

The Art of Living

With her clinical expertise, teaching prowess, and firsthand experience, Dr. Silver provides a rich overview of how to recover more quickly, easily, and wisely before, during, and after cancer treatment. Beyond learning the science behind cancer treatment and the practical tools of rehabilitation, the reader gains a rich perspective about the art of living well. This book makes for a life-affirming, useful, and inspiring read.

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Last modified: March 10, 2022

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