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by Gregory White Smith & Steven Naifeh

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1997
ISBN: 0-316-59788-0
Publisher: Little, Brown

 What might have been simply another personal account of surviving cancer is in fact an empowering document for anyone with a life-threatening illness. Smith and Naifeh, who won a Pulitzer Prize for their biography of Jackson Pollock and together produce annual reference books on the top doctors and lawyers in the country, are bona fide experts at researching and writing. Here, Naifeh takes a back seat to Smith, who narrates this account. In 1986, aged 34, he was given three months to live by doctors at the Mayo Clinic, who told him his brain tumor was inoperable. Realizing that the statistical odds for his death still left a chance he might live, and needing to take control of his situation, Smith began a search that eventually led him to the right doctor and the right treatment. While describing that search, the authors show how the battle for control of one's life is often a struggle against both one's own feelings of denial and the intimidating, we-know-best attitude of many doctors. To illustrate that the battle can be won, they interviewed dozens of survivors of devastating accidents and illnesses--a parachutist who survived an 11,000-foot fall, a young woman who had the first double-lung transplant--as well as physicians and support group leaders around the country. Their stories, feelings, and insights give dimension to Smith's own experience. To show how the battle can be won, they offer advice on researching one's own disease, asking the right questions, developing an effective doctor-patient relationship. While they stress how essential it is to have the right attitude and how important the support of family or friends can be to winning the battle, they acknowledge that sometimes tough decisions have to be made about continuing the fight, and they argue that deciding where to draw that line is the patient's, not the doctor's, right. Persuasive evidence that ``miracles'' must be worked for--they don't just happen.