Columnist’s note: Writing about people’s health care can be tricky and requires clear permission, careful consideration and, frankly, great tact. I confirmed with my grandma on several occasions her permission to write about her journey with advanced lung cancer. When I snapped pictures of her, I made sure the nurses knew what I was up to, and I respected the privacy of those around her.
As a long-time journalist, I have lived much of my life with the mindset that most everything is “on the record” and material for a good story unless otherwise specified — and even then there are ethical and legal ways to publish information someone would prefer were private. In health care, my new profession, it is just the opposite. We are taught to assume everything is absolutely private unless given permission to view or, certainly, to share in any way. Everything is “off the record.” Without their expressed permission, people’s health care is confidential, private, NOT part of my storytelling.
Going from the town crier to living with sealed lips has been challenging for me — a hard and high learning curve on which I have stumbled a time or two. As I write about my grandma and her experiences, I likely will focus on my own perspectives, for one, and maintain a heightened awareness of her wishes for privacy such as they are. However, with her permission, it is my hope my grandma and her stories can touch others. That’s the goal of good journalism, no?
My grandma has cancer. Probably not an uncommon thing to hear. People get cancer — lots of people. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 13.7 million Americans in 2012 had or had had cancer.
About 1.6 million new cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2013. My grandma was one of them.