An Emergency Room Physician Offers Hands-on Perspective for Treating Patients With Cancer

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According to research in the literature, adults with cancer generate high rates of emergency department visits, leading to hospitalization roughly 60% of the time—nearly four times the rate of the general population. Although many of these visits could be prevented, this phenomenon offers numerable learning experiences about the often lonely and desperate road of patients with cancer. And who better to learn from than an emergency room (ER) doctor, who is there 24/7, to treat a patient with cancer who presents with a pain crisis or unrelenting nausea and vomiting in the middle of the night?


Title: Crushing Cancer: A Patient’s Complete Guide to Managing a
Cancer Diagnosis

Author: Kerry A. Forrestal, MD; Illustrator: Sarah Forrestal

Publisher: Storyteller Books

Publication Date:July 2021

Price: $32.00, paperback, 436 pages

A new book by ER physician Kerry A. Forrestal, MD, Crushing Cancer: A Patient’s Complete Guide to Managing a Cancer Diagnosis, offers sound advice for patients with cancer from a doctor who has seen it all. In his own words: “Over the years, I have seen all types of misadventure, misunderstanding, and misfortune. So, this book was really started as an attempt at keeping you, the cancer patient, as healthy as possible and out of the emergency department.”

Well-Travelled ER Doctor

Dr. Forrestal is an emergency medicine physician in Salisbury, Maryland, who has practiced for more than 15 years. This well-traveled ER doctor delivers a sure-handed book, organized into 17 chapters. There are also Quick Response Codes, and with the use of a smartphone or tablet app, readers can automatically link to the resource being discussed.

Crushing Cancer is not an elegant read, but that is part of its value and charm. Dr. Forrestal also has the good sense to tell readers of the best way to use this book. “It’s not my intention to have this book read from cover to cover like a novel. Instead, please look at the table of contents and figure out what your most pressing need is and start there.”

The first several chapters deal with the nuts and bolts of cancer, from its origin down to diagnosis and various staging methods and what they mean for the newly diagnosed patient with cancer. However, the “deep dive” sections on grading and staging might be a bit too much for the lay reader. That small gripe aside, this is a smartly constructed book, built to read, not impress.

From Treatment Options to the End of Life

Chapter 7 elucidates the multiple treatment options presented to newly diagnosed patients with cancer, which also wisely includes a discussion of goals. Each treatment option is thoroughly explained, with terrific reader-friendly visuals. The goes deep into the rapidly evolving field of immunotherapy. Aside from a few overly complex descriptions, he does a sterling job of distilling this science-heavy subject into digestible bites. He also takes this approach in the important section on pain management and oncologic emergencies. Chapter 10 focuses on managing the financial implications of cancer.

Fittingly, at the end of the book, Dr. Forrestal offers his collective observations from his years as a hospice volunteer of the dying process and distills it into a simple, yet poignant narrative. He writes: “When I do shepherd people through this [the dying process] with loved ones, I always encourage them to talk, to share stories about the person’s life, and very often they’re funny ones. My experiences over these past 40 years have convinced me that hearing is among the last senses to go, so the sound of your family’s voices, tears, and laughter can only be of comfort.”

Offering more value than most books in this genre, Crushing Cancer is an important addition to the patient education literature. It is highly recommended for readers of The ASCO Post, who will undoubtedly make a human connection with this no-nonsense ER doctor who practices medicine under the toughest of conditions, with patience and empathy, because that’s what doctors do.