The Shared Experience of Illness: Stories of Patients, Families, and Their Therapists

By Leahey, Maureen | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, July 1999 | Go to article overview

The Shared Experience of Illness: Stories of Patients, Families, and Their Therapists


Leahey, Maureen, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


McDaniel, S. H., Hepworth J., & Doherty, W. J. (Eds.). (1997). The shared experience of illness: Stories of patients, families, and their therapists. Scranton, PA: Basic Books, 378 pp., $42.00.

I write this review on an eleven-hour flight from a four-day visit with Don, my older brother, who has a glioblastoma brain tumor. During the visit we went out to dinner twice; Don had two seizures while sitting at the kitchen table; Marion, my sister-in-law, and I went for a two-mile walk everyday. She shared the worry of Don falling asleep while smoking a cigarette and showed me cigarette burns in the chair. Marion talked about her guilt in asking for help or "imposing on people" until she was at her extreme limit. I tried to offer her alternative ideas.

Marion told me the illness seemed to make Don "sweeter." Don told me how capable Marion is and that she has started to handle all the finances. I lathered Don's legs, swollen feet, and arms with lotion. He said he didn't always trust his judgement and he thought he would get someone to do his taxes this year. I agreed it was a good plan. He told me I was "a good kid." I wheeled him out of a non-smoking restaurant twice so he could smoke. I took him to the men's room and reminded him to zip his fly. When I asked Don what has been the hardest thing about the illness experience, he said, "giving up driving" and "becoming dependent." He told me consistency is the most important thing a manager can give staff: People need to know what you stand for. Don leaned on my shoulder as we walked across the road to pick up the mail. I was glad I made the long trip.

Don asked me why I would dedicate my new book to them. When I said I was impressed by his courage in "playing the hand" he had been dealt and by Marion's great caring, they seemed surprised and pleased. During the visit, Don and Marion signed the contract to sell their home. Marion's 90-year-old mother (who lives with them) hemmed my slacks and made us lunch. We all studied the protocol for the experimental cancerinhibiting drug that Don is taking. We reminisced about childhood experiences, discussed the grandchildren and Clinton's latest speech. Marion and I planned for future visits to help with caretaking. It was a good trip. Don said, "I appreciate your coming-it's been fun for me."

This is not an atypical illness narrative according to McDaniel, Hepworth, and Doherty. It was a visit filled with moments and conversations of love, fear, courage, and inspiration. Don, Marion, and her mother are living alongside illness.

This book is ground breaking! It offers stories of therapists' personal experiences with illness and gives examples of how these can be a healing resource in therapy.

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