The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness - Jerome Groopman

Groopman is a doctor who works with blood disease, cancer, and AIDS, and as such has worked with many seriously ill patients in the past thirty years. This book explores the idea that hope has a significant impact on a patient's recovery. Groopman describes the cases of several types of patient: the one with no hope, the one who was given false hope, a colleague who everyone thought was beyond hope but persisted with severely painful treatments nonetheless, a patient who remained optimistic even in the face of death despite progressively advancing cancer.

There has been much in the media about the power of positive attitudes, but Groopman examines the idea of hope with a scientific bent. He doesn't propose that hope is a cure-all, or that optimism by itself can serve as a substitute for chemotherapy. But he does examine the physiological effects that hope can have, as well as the way our body can affect our attitudes and emotions. He makes a distinction between real hope and false hope—for example, when a patient was kept ignorant of the severity of her diagnosis. He also has an example from his own life, when he suffered from disabling back pains for nearly two decades.

Most of the book wasn't too surprising: you pretty much know from the start which patients will recover and which will not. However, I thought Groopman's attempt to come up with a more rigorous definition of "hope" and his scientific mindset gave more insight into the mind-body connection than some of what I've read in popular media. It's a fairly quick read (with plenty of notes and an index in the back), and Groopman tries to avoid cliched stories and trite "think positive" suggestions. I think both patients and doctors may find it a useful resource.

Fed to jonathan's brain | August 11, 2004