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A Piece of My Mind
October 28, 2009

A Gift of Time

JAMA. 2009;302(16):1738. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1447

Julie Goldman was a Harvard anthropologist who died of metastatic breast cancer at the age of 38 in 2000. I had the privilege of being her oncologist and, as our relationship deepened, her friend and colleague. Together we studied the literature on the patient-physician relationship, discovered the burgeoning field of communication, and spent many hours brainstorming. We were particularly concerned about the future of “patient-centered” and “relationship-centered” medicine as the influence of bureaucrats, lobbyists, and activists mounted. It was not just financial issues and pressures that worried us, but the lack of frank dialogue in society about the real problems facing sick and disabled persons and those with little time left to live. Julie had many gifts and talents, among them the ability to express, elegantly and clearly, her experience of being trapped in a body that was “self-destructing.” She took notes and, as she neared the end, wrote poems. Only a few of her compelling paragraphs were ever published. After her death, her mother dropped off a box of journals and loose papers in my office. She knew that her daughter would want me to have them.

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