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Practitioner turned patient shares her experience in new book

Theresa Brown
"Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient" book cover.

As an oncology nurse, Theresa Brown thought she knew cancer, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself, she came to realize she knew nothing about being a patient.

Brown’s new memoir called "Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient" shares her story about struggling with cancer treatments while taking an honest look at what it's like to navigate our healthcare system through the unique lens of both a patient and practitioner.

After agreeing to take part in a study that used ultrasound with mammography, Brown says she was shocked to learn she had breast cancer.

"I got this big professional shock because here's this ultrasound tech, I don't know her, she doesn't know me. She comes in and comforts me and I thought no, that's what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm the comforter. I'm not the one who needs comforting. So that was the start," says Brown.

As an oncology nurse, there were some benefits when it came to advocating for herself, she acknowledges.

"In some ways, my background definitely helped me and the knowledge I had was helpful. In other ways, I had to unlearn what I had learned and I'm sure also implemented, about how care works, and go along to get along," says Brown.

Theresa Brown
Portrait of Theresa Brown

Still, there were things that Brown says she didn't expect. She says she felt herself transform from an "easy patient" to being a "difficult patient."

Her experience also gave her a chance to see where she had made mistakes as a practitioner and where she and the healthcare system could improve.

"What got me to write the book, because I think everyone needs to know this, we don't see patients as fully as we need to. I think patients need to understand that feeling of not being seen, that's real, that's legitimate," says Brown.

The pandemic has only further exasperated the gap between patient and practitioner, Brown points out. She says America is focusing too much on the business aspect of healthcare, instead of taking care of human beings and making them well.

After her experience in the healthcare system, she now encourages patients to advocate for themselves, and embrace being the "difficult patient".

"If someone starts yelling at you, what happens? You get defensive. You stop listening. You know, you fight or flight, you want to run away, you can't think straight. So don't yell at people, it confuses them. But be insistent. Be direct. Yes, be the difficult patient," says Brown.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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