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Issue Introductions

Remembering Human Touch

In her February 2021 introduction, Lillie Shockney focuses on the forgotten value of human touch during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting several patient stories, as well as an article that offers a historical perspective of the war on cancer.
February 2021 Vol 7 No 1
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Oncology Navigation & Survivorship®; Co-Founder, Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators® (AONN+); University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer, Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Co-Developer, Work Stride-Managing Cancer at Work, Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
Breast cancer survivor

Hello everyone, and welcome to the February 2021 issue of CONQUER: the patient voice. This issue contains many stories, and from these stories we hope you can identify some new coping skills based on the experiences of other people. These articles also include some “lessons learned,” which are unique to each person; some may apply to your situation, and some may not. But there is benefit in hearing from other people about what their cancer journeys have been like.

One story that I was very especially enthusiastic to read is written by a medical student. This individual is receiving her medical training in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what she has come away with already learning early in her career is that the human touch is a requirement for coping, for survival, for experiencing, especially at end of life.

This medical student had a favorite aunt who died of cancer, and the reflections of witnessing that experience as a young person is also something that this medical student is applying to her current practice. I chuckled when I read that the aunt had a “contagious laugh.” I hope that this laughter can still be heard and felt today, although she is far away now.

So, ironically, an unexpected gift from this pandemic is that medical students, medical residents, student nurses, and everyone who is learning in healthcare these days—including perhaps some people who have been in the medical field for years—now value and recognize the enormous importance of the human touch. (By the way, did you know that if newborns are not being held and touched, they don’t thrive and grow? That says a lot about the power of touch!)

Some of the patient stories involve having horrific cancers that should have resulted in death, but have not. We call those miracles. Some of the stories describe many people within the same family who have catastrophic illnesses at the same time. This teaches us that cancer does not care what else is going on in our lives or our families’ lives. It will show up whenever it wants to, and it must be balanced with the rest of the hell a family is going through.

There is also a patient story of a man with breast cancer, describing what his experience was, and how it feels to be treated among predominantly women, who are usually the ones to have breast cancer.

In a thoughtful article about survivorship, by a brain cancer survivor, the author says: “I will take from the cancer, instead of it taking from me.”

We would be remiss if we didn’t include an article on financial resources for you. Read the article about the PAN Foundation and how to access the financial assistance they provide to patients with cancer and their families.

You each have learned what it’s like to deal with cancer now, in these specific times—but have you ever wondered what it was like centuries ago? Even 50 years ago? Read the article that describes the history of the war on cancer. Just imagine, not so long ago, some people believed that cancer was contagious. Ironically, today, patients with cancer who are staying inside hospitals are probably feeling as if they are contagious, simply because they cannot have visitors, and everyone who enters their room only has their eyes visible, because of COVID-19.

So please be well. Stay safe. Wear a mask whenever you are around others, and keep social distancing. Your treatment team is working hard to save or extend your life. Don’t let that hard work be interrupted or derailed by catching COVID-19.

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Last modified: March 2, 2021

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