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702 Surviving Cancer: Evan Handler

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Twelve years ago, we spoke with actor Evan Handler about his fascinating book Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors. It described his battle with acute myeloid leukemia in his early 20s.

Since that time, Evan Handler has won acclaim as an actor both in movies and on television. He may be best-known for his portrayal of Harry Goldenblatt in the popular TV series, Sex and the City, and he is currently starring in Californication. But he should be just as well-known as an author. His book, It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive, is an exploration of how being cured of cancer has affected his outlook on life.


Guest: Evan Handler is a well-known actor, currently appearing in the hit series Californication on Showtime. His most recent book is It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive. His Web site, www.evanhandler.com, has information on his current book tour.
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I so enjoyed the quote from Evan Handler that you replayed from 12 years ago about hope. I can't find it printed anywhere and would like to post it on my blog.

I have had many similar experiences while caring for my daughter who died of cancer, and have been trying to advocate for change with our hospital's patient relations staff since then.

I have two other children with disabilities, and I think that hope is essential to raising children, and even in caring for a child who is terminally ill. There is always hope. I really resented the times when I would be approached daily by residents who saw how were were with our daughter and felt that we had to be told again that our daughter was dying--as if that is something you can forget!!

I understand about the stage of grief called denial. But to me denial is a river that flows toward acceptance. You can't go around it. You have to go through.

We had been given the gift of only a year after diagnosis with our first and only daughter. I was going to give her the best quality of life I could during the time we had her with us. To us that meant unpacking the beautiful clothes given to her at her baby shower (she was only 3 months old at the time) and letting her wear them instead of hospital gowns when appropriate.

And using the cute bedding and mobiles from her nursery in the hospital bed. And putting up Christmas decorations since the holiday was only weeks away. And playing quiet music in the room, putting an incandescent reading light in the room to use instead of the harsh fluorescent lights when they weren't needed. And I chose to not wean her yet, even though I got a lot of pressure from the hospital staff to do so--even though she could nurse right after surgery (to get her system moving again) but wasn't allowed formula.

This helped her recover faster from several surgeries and procedures because her feeding schedule was constantly being interrupted by many, many tests. She grew and looked healthy until the very end, surprising everyone...

At that time, 18 years ago, most parents didn't stick around the children's cancer ward, and to have us there, acting like parents, and treating her like a child most of the time, instead of a patient, looked like "denial." So the staff were always trying to exterminate what they thought were our "false hopes" along with the cancer. What a shame. I think more parents would have stayed to comfort, feed, diaper and spend time with their dying children if they had allowed them to act as if the quality of life of the last few months were just as important as the first few in any child's life.

Hope is a two-edged sword, and giving a patient false hope when there is certainty of the lethality of a cancer may do them a disservice in planning for their family.

Tell me, RS: How and when does someone know of the "certainty" of a lethality? My point, and the point of the interview, was to stress that in many cases (not all, but many), lethality can't be determined with "certainty" until autopsy. My guess, as an experienced patient, would be that physicians err on the side of limiting what you call "false hope" - though I take issue with the terms itself - far more often than they err on the side of over encouraging it.

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