One of the most difficult moments I’ve ever had was being on Internal Medicine and having a patient come in with terminal liver cancer, more specifically hepatocellular carcinoma. She had come to the hospital one month before with similar pain and left with a diagnosis of a ruptured ovarian cyst. When she came back with similar pain, she told me it wasn’t her ovaries. She knew something was wrong, and she feared the response. It was her 20th birthday and she wasn’t ready to hear the news yet. Quite frankly, I don’t blame her. Can you imagine having to find out on your 20th birthday that you have terminal cancer with limited options?
At best, this patient had 10-12 months. Here I was, a medical student, about to witness and take part in delivering very difficult news. Delivering bad news is never easy, and learning techniques for proper delivery is imperative especially when dealing with human emotions and vulnerability. I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally before delivery. I had to remind myself that this isn’t about me and how I’m hurting for this patient. It’s about the patient, her family, and delivering in a way that will be best for her so that she may move forward with a plan.
After delivering the news, we consulted the palliative care team and oncology team. I learned much through this experience, and I think it’s an important lesson to learn how to deliver bad news—check it out here.