Thursday, March 23, 2006

Health/Inspirational: The Anatomy of Hope

Looking for comfort and inspiration during a relapse of my illness this week, I turned to The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness by Dr. Jerome Groopman. I found just what I needed in this fascinating exploration of hope.

Much of the book reads like a novel, as Dr. Groopman shares stories of his patients and his own 20-year struggle with severe back pain. He tells of a devout Orthodox Jewish woman who was convinced her breast cancer was a punishment from God, of a veteran who refused treatment for a very treatable cancer, and of the miraculous recovery of a pathologist stricken with one of the deadliest cancers known.
Each story sheds light on his growing understanding that hope can be a powerful force in recovery -- something not taught in medical school.

Woven throughout these compelling stories, Dr. Groopman humbly admits to his own shortcomings as a doctor and shows how each patient contributed to his eventual enlightenment as to the power of hope.

This is not one of those new-age books that claims anyone can heal himself if he just thinks positively. Dr. Groopman echoes my own feelings when he points out that this kind of approach often makes patients feel worse because it implies that your illness is your own fault and you could get well if you just tried hard enough. He carefully defines real hope - different from indiscriminate optimism - based on what he learned from his patients:

"Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see - in the mind's eye - a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path. True hope has no room for delusion."

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Groopman also takes a look at the scientific side of hope, reviewing what little research exists and recounting his discussions with various experts. Having a scientific background, I appreciated this link to science to further prove that what Dr. Groopman observed in his patients can be backed up by data and isn't just another "think yourself well" platitude. Despite his obvious excitement about the power of hope,he puts it in perspective as just one element that can contribute to wellness and recovery.

The Anatomy of Hope successfully combines compassion and science in a book that is both inspirational and practical. Dr. Groopman's considerable talents as a writer and storyteller wrap these important lessons in an engaging view of the medical world that patients rarely see. Just reading his book makes me feel more in control of my illness and more hopeful for my future.

272 pages, Random House Trade Paperbacks

Random House Audio

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