Theresa Brown: Healing



ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Nurse and best-selling author Theresa Brown discusses her new memoir, “HEALING: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient.” Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, Podbean, or SoundCloud.

“As an oncology nurse, I thought I knew cancer—knew it. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself, I realized I knew nothing at all about being a cancer patient: how terrifying having cancer is, and how lonely,” explains Theresa Brown, RN, a frequent contributor to The New York Times opinion pages,, and the American Journal of Nursing.

In her captivating 2015 New York Times bestseller, “The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives,” Brown offered readers an eye-opening glimpse into a full day at her hospital’s cancer ward, providing a compassionate view inside the complex inner workings of our healthcare system and the individual struggles of her patients. Now, Brown has returned with an unprecedented look at this system from the viewpoint of a cancer patient she had never encountered: herself. In her new memoir, “HEALING: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient,” Brown tells her intensely personal story and presents an honest – and rare – look at struggling with the illness while navigating the maze of American health care from the unique standpoint of both a patient and a practitioner.

Brown vividly chronicles her journey, from the mammogram appointment that would change her life to her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. She writes about the small joys she finds amid her fears – riding her bike to radiation appointments, a hiking trip with her husband and kids, the constancy of her dog. But despite years working as an oncology and hospice nurse, Brown is constantly surprised by the lack of compassion she experiences during her treatment. Why is she expected to wait over a long weekend to hear the results of her cancer tests if they are available? Why is she left in the dark about what treatments she’ll be needing? Where is the empathy from caregivers?

Like the 4 million women in the U.S. who live with breast cancer, Brown deals with the challenges and frustrations that characterize our healthcare system. She also reflects on her time caring for patients. Did she treat them with the dignity and respect that she now craves? What could she have done to make other people’s suffering even a little bit easier? Answering these questions and more, Brown does something few practitioners ever do in print: she reevaluates her own role in this problematic system. Brown shows us up close a system that may offer advanced medicine but still lets people down, giving a candid critique that shows we can and should prioritize kindness over profit.

“People often claim that the United States has the best health care system in the world. But, as we have all struggled through the Covid pandemic, news reports have proliferated about how our broken system is becoming increasingly unable to care for patients the way they need and deserve: cancelled surgeries, emergency patients rerouted, sick patients sent home due to lack of beds, and above all, a major nursing shortage due to burnout in the profession,” writes Brown, an internationally renowned speaker on nursing, health care and end of life. “Healing traces the intersection of my nurse-self and my patient-self, from breast cancer diagnosis through treatment and after when I return to work in home hospice, and my reflections on the process from both perspectives. What did Theresa-the-nurse learn from Theresa-the-patient? That we want and need compassion from our health care. Medicine can cure, but healing requires more: thoughtfulness and genuinely compassionate care.”

Theresa Brown, RN, author of the New York Times bestseller The Shift, has been a contributor to the New York Times. Her writing appears on and in the American Journal of Nursing, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She has been a guest on MSNBC Live and NPR’s Fresh Air. Her first book was Critical Care, and during what she calls her past life, she received a PhD in English from the University of Chicago. She lectures nationally and internationally on issues related to nursing, health care, and end of life. More:


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About the Author:

Theresa Brown, RN, author of the New York Times bestseller The Shift, has been a contributor to the New York Times.

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