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[cover] Healing Lessons
A Doctor's Story Of Love, Loss, and Transformation
By Sidney J. Winawer and Nick Taylor

Published by Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: May, 1998
304 pages
ISBN: 0316945099 (hard cover; also available as audio tapes)

Sidney Winawer, a noted cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, has written a moving and compassionate memoir of his wife Andrea's battle with terminal cancer. This expert in the field of cancer care has growing feelings of powerlessness and frustration as it becomes clear that he cannot save his wife's life. Writing assistance was given by Nick Taylor, whose A Necessary End (1994) described his own watch over his parents' final years.

Winawer's influential role as head of gastroenterology at Sloan-Kettering and his own personal wealth ensured that Andrea would receive top quality care -- much better care than the typical cancer patient can expect to receive. The "A-list" couple receives immediate appointments with key specialists and has unlimited access to state-of-the art diagnostic and treatment approaches.

Having treated thousands of cancer patients before his own wife became ill, Winawer is shocked when he begins to see the invasive realities of modern medicine through the eyes of a recipient rather than a provider. His wife's situation makes him notice just how unflattering a hospital gown can be. The realities of chemotherapy side effects take on new meaning when his own wife experiences them.

Realizing that "patients facing lethal disease have to find hope, and the start of hope is the belief that they can help themselves," he encouraged her to take control of her treatment plan. Conventional treatment includes surgery, ten different chemotherapy protocols and a bone-marrow transplant. But as her stomach cancer metastisizes to her liver, even these sophisticated medical interventions fail to halt the disease.

Like so many other cancer patients, Andrea seeks out alternative medical treatments when standard protocols fail. He supports Andrea's determination to take control of her own treatment plan despite the advice of his colleagues. He helps her research alternative treatments and, without her doctors' knowledge, he gives her injections of interferon and somatostatin when she chooses to try these non-standard therapies. Andrea also tries hyperthermia treatments, meditation, coenzyme Q-10, vitamins, prayer, and coffee enemas. But none of these turn the tide, and the cancer continues to progress.

Winawer believes that a blend of conventional and complementary medical approaches enhanced the quality of Andrea's life and possibly prolonged it. Following this life-changing experience he is now developing an integrative medicine program at Sloan-Kettering.

The book is valuable as a realistic and informed look at modern cancer care, but it's best message is how the valient but ultimately hopeless fight against terminal illness ultimately brought the family closer together and forced Kettering to open his mind to more than just the technical side of medicine.

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