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Childhood cancer: a handbook from St Jude Children's Research Hospital.Edited by G Steen and J Mirro. (Pp 606; hardback; £21.99). USA: Perseus Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0738202770.
This book is somewhat depressing from the point of view of a UK paediatric oncologist. Coming from such an outstanding hospital it is, as one would expect, an excellent text for all those who care for children with cancer whether they be family or professionals attempting to explain the complex, clearly and succinctly. However, it highlights the great divide between the best in Britain and the best in the USA—chronic lack of funding for resources and staff in the UK, coupled with far greater public education and involvement in America. St Jude Research Hospital has no equivalent in the UK: it brings together a vast array of talent with immense publicly donated finances enabling it to really tackle the challenges of childhood cancer. Its contribution over the last three decades has been truly immense.
There are those who would say that the size of this text, and the depth of detail enclosed is too much for the average family to digest; for many Americans that simply is not so. It is not just the threat of litigation in America that drives the information giving; it was the same 25 years ago when I worked there and then litigation was a rarity. The thirst for knowledge is part of a genuine desire by families to understand and contribute to their child's care; if we fail in the UK to address that need, we really will go down the line of increasing complaints and legal suits. We simply need to get better at communication and to educate our population audience. The real value of the book is for all the professionals concerned to read, learn how to translate science and complex medical terms in to every day language and share it with patients and families. The era of “trust me I'm the doctor and know best” is well and truly over.
Not every chapter in this book has fully succeeded and editorial control could have been more strict for some contributions but as a whole it works well and is remarkably cheap. I believe that every UK centre ought to have several copies for staff education, let alone for loaning out to families. It is difficult not to be jealous of their talents and resources, but at least we can learn from their experience. We must improve our communication skills and learn not to patronise our patients and their families by judging what we think they can understand rather that finding out what they actually do.
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