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AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You--Or Someone You Love--a Devastating Diagnosis Paperback – January 23, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gruman brings thorough research, interviews and personal experience to this informed, accessible guidebook for responding to news of poor health. Diagnosed four times with serious illnesses including cancer and a heart condition, Gruman, a medical journalist and president of the Center for the Advancement of Health, knows firsthand how such information can overwhelm a patient. Her advice is concrete but delivered with empathy and enlivened by testimony of other patients. In clear language, she explains how to educate oneself about the disease, treatment options and specialists; how to obtain the best care, involve the support of family and friends, and handle career-related issues. Gruman includes a useful chapter on dealing with potential health insurance and financial problems, and she suggests strategies for coping with stress caused by living with a disease, such as finding distraction, exploring spirituality or seeking counseling. The detailed appendixes on resources for finding the appropriate doctor and hospital, nonprofit organizations, clinical trials and second-opinion services, among others, are helpful tools for patients and caregivers. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


I consider this book so valuable I plan to keep it on my bedside table should I need it later on. Its recommendations are based not just on the author's experiences with illness, but also on interviews with more than 250 others: patients, family members, nurses, doctors, health plan administrators, managers of busy practices and nonprofit leaders. (Jane E. Brody, New York Times)

A comprehensive and invaluable guide. The plain language and easy-to-follow instructions make this a 'must have' for every family, healthy or otherwise. (Tom Brokaw, NBC Anchor)

AfterShock is important to have in your home, not just to give you vital information should you get bad news about your own health, but also to help friends and family who may have to cope with all of the issues facing them. (Barbara Walters, ABC News)

Those who must enter the emotionally turbulent world of medical care for a serious illness always want, but often lack, the calming influence of a sensible companion who has been there before. Jessie Gruman's book provides that companionship and will be greatly valued by many facing disturbing diagnoses. (Harold Varmus, M.D., President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Nobel Prize recipient)

There comes a moment in all our lives when we get bad news about ourselves or someone we love. Jessie Gruman shows that how we handle the news--and what we do next--can make a huge difference in the life of the person affected. As someone who has been through a shocking episode with a child, I find the book worth reading and--just as important--worth keeping close at hand. (Judy Woodruff, special correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer)

Anyone with a scary diagnosis would do him/herself a favor by reading this book without delay. AfterShock is wise, sensitive, practical, readable, and helpful in the extreme. (Betty Rollin, author of First, You Cry and Here's the Bright Side)

This is an extraordinary guide based on solid research and depth of expertise. It is infused with clarity, wit, wisdom, compassion, and most of all, hope. (Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York)

If someone you love has ever had a frightening diagnosis, they surely could have used Jessie Gruman's book. By assuring you that your initial state of shock is normal, then by guiding you through the ways to make tough choices, AfterShock helps restore the sense of control you probably lost. A how-to on getting the best care, the book is both reassuring and empowering. (Lesley Stahl, correspondent on 60 Minutes, CBS)

Each of us, or one of our loved ones, is likely to receive a diagnosis of devastating illness. That is why this perceptive, comforting, and practical book belongs on every family's shelf. (Joseph A. Califano Jr., Chairman and President, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 1977–1979)

In this period of bewildering complexity in our fragmented health system, Jessie Gruman's book is a quiet, reassuring refuge from the challenge of receiving shocking medical news--empowering to the patient and to his/her family, helping them to become active participants in the planning and the delivery of their health care and health maintenance. AfterShock is an invaluable medical resource and supportive companion. (Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., President Emeritus, Morehouse School of Medicine, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 1989–1993)

This is a book about life. The poignant stories attest to the enduring value of friends and family--as well as medical professionals--in helping find a path through the painful first shock and wrenching turmoil of a life-changing diagnosis. Everyone can benefit from this book. Don't wait until you think you need it. Read it now. (Mary O'Neil Mundinger, Dr.P.H., R.N., Dean and Centennial Professor in Health Policy, Columbia University School of Nursing)

When someone close to you is diagnosed with a serious illness, do them a big favor--give them this book. Dr. Gruman has written a compelling and comprehensive guide to making use of the best available evidence to respond to a bad diagnosis. (John W. Rowe, M.D., Executive Chairman, Aetna)

Jessie Gruman knows of what she speaks. If you or a loved one has received a devastating diagnosis, AfterShock sympathetically lays out what to do and how to do it. Gruman's book is clear, concise, wide-ranging, elegantly composed, richly illustrated by personal reflections, deeply informed, and highly practical. This is a work I will want to share with family and friends. (Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., President, Institute of Medicine)

For patients and families faced with bad diagnostic news, it would be hard to find a more useful and dependable support. Jessie Gruman is wise, practical, and authoritative--and she's been there. (Jeremiah Barondess, M.D., President, New York Academy of Medicine)

No doctor can tell you everything you need to know about how to respond to a devastating diagnosis. AfterShock can help you make good choices about all the elements of your new and challenging situation. Jessie Gruman is a great friend of seriously ill patients. If you let her help you--she will. (David Nathan, M.D., President Emeritus, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)

The discovery of a medical problem causes a crisis not only for the patient but also for the family. The author, having been through these unsettling problems several times and having shown remarkable resilience, lays out practical suggestions on what to do and also how to relieve the stress. (Aaron T. Beck, M.D., University Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, and Lasker Award recipient)

This is a splendid example of turning one's recurrent frightening situation into a positive gift for others. I think the book will be most helpful to people who seek more information. They will be able to return to the book repeatedly as their need for different information and their readiness to use it change as they adapt to their devastating diagnosis. This book, like its characterization of many nurses, is 'pure gold.' (Martha N. Hill, Ph.D., R.N., Dean, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing)

The medical community owes Dr. Gruman a huge thanks for writing this courageous book. Anyone confronting some of the frightening diseases that it is our great misfortune to suffer can be comforted and guided by this wonderful volume. (Kenneth L. Davis, M.D., President and CEO, Mount Sinai Medical Center)

Reading this gorgeously written book is both an emotional and intellectual experience. It is a 'must have' for anyone touched by a devastating illness either directly or through a loved one. Any health professional not deeply moved by the contents should find another line of work. (Claire Fagin, Ph.D., R.N., Dean Emerita, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing)

After the shock of a devastating diagnosis comes the 'aftershock,' when a person must learn the topography of a strange and frightening terrain. Written with unpretentious authority, AfterShock is a humane and immensely important book about coping with a catastrophic illness. (Robert M. Butler, M.D., President and CEO, International Longevity Center, USA)

AfterShock is an amazing guide for the overwhelmed person or family member asking 'What do I do next?' It is filled with practical advice which is mixed--in a most pleasantly readable style--with the observations of someone who has 'been there--done that' but who also knows the psychological terrain of illness. Gruman recognized the gap in information for this period and has filled it beautifully. (Jimmie C. Holland, M.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center)

This is a wise and compassionate book. It should be recommended reading for all patients facing difficult medical decisions. It also should be recommended reading for medical students and doctors-in-training. (George E. Thibault, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Clinical Affairs, Partners HealthCare System)

With her first book, social psychologist Gruman (founder & president, Ctr. for the Advancement of Health) aims to empower patients, and those close to them, with practical and well-organized information about how to use the first few days after a serious medical diagnosis to help those involved make the right decisions for themselves. This is a very sensitively written book, with patient concerns always central and information arranged to avoid overwhelming the reader ... Highly recommended for all public library and consumer health collections. (Elizabeth J. Eastwood, Mesa P.L., Los Alamos, NM, Library Journal (*starred review))

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (January 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802715028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715029
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Kentucky, the only daughter in a family with four kids. My mom is a musician and was a psychotherapist and my dad was a Protestant minister. We lived in upstate New York, Montana, Wisconsin and Oregon when we were growing up.

I was 19 years old and a student at Vassar College when I was diagnosed with an advanced case of Hodgkin's disease. I was very sick and had a lot of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I was not a good patient. I was snippy to the doctors and wouldn't take my pills when I was supposed to and would go out dancing when my immune system was at low ebb. My casual misbehavior in the face of such a devastating diagnosis continues to amaze me ' and probably influenced my professional interests. How could I have taken such risks when my life was dependent on doing what the doctors told me to do?

I graduated from Vassar College and received a PhD in social psychology from Columbia University. Since then, I have worked in the private sector (AT&T), the public sector (the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health) and the voluntary sector (the American Cancer Society). In each position, I have been able to work on the questions raised by my first diagnosis: How do we understand the risks for disease and of treatment? How can behavioral and social science research can help us respond to our illnesses and act to prevent disease in the first place?

In 1992, I was asked by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation to start a new Washington-based policy organization to draw attention to the scientific evidence showing the influence of non-medical factors on health and disease. At this organization, Center for the Advancement of Health, (www.cfah.org), we have a particular interest in how people use evidence when making decisions about their health and their health care.

Over the years, I received two additional cancer diagnoses and was hospitalized with a dangerous heart condition. These events have taught me that expertise and experience offer little protection against the painful shock of bad medical news

I live with my husband a professor and biomedical researcher at Columbia University and two lively parrots in New York City. I travel weekly to Washington DC, where I work.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Harold Hill on February 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
This fabulous book should be in everyone's medicine chest because like bandages and aspirin, sooner or later, you're going to need it. Gruman skillfully and sensitively guides the reader through the full spectrum of concerns and activities that characterize the first several weeks after receiving a devastating medical diagnosis. Some of the chapters are devoted to topics you would expect in such a book: how to get a second opinion, how to manage the flood of emotions that spill over you. But others are entirely unexpected and therefore, especially welcome: how to deal with your insurance company, how to inform family members and co-workers, how to negotiate benefit managers, etc.

And just in case the above suggests that this is a dry and technical book, it's absolutely not. The great strength of AfterShock is that compelling and often heart-rending anecdotes from real patients, doctors, human resources specialists, and family members provide an emotional grounding for every bit of advice the book contains. This book is essential reading. Like it or not, we're all going to need it sooner or later.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Smitparr on July 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., has written an essential reference for just about everyone. She offers a well-informed cushion and roadmap to support what most of us will face quite unprepared--the shock of learning that you or someone you love has a bad diagnosis. Gruman has been there--she's had 4 serious illnesses, including 3 different cancers. She has brought together her own personal experience and her extensive behavioral science and health policy professional knowledge in a very accessible reference. She was interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show on 7/11/07. (You can get the DVD through Amazon) Notice how engaged Charlie Rose becomes from the get-go in his interview with her, due to his own health issues and what she has to say. Don't wait until you get the bad news, and you are in shock. Watch this interview and then buy this book now.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Auntiegin on December 2, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You couldn't find an more apt title for a book than this one. My 75 year old mother was recently told that she has cancer. Needless to say we were all in a state of shock. This was not supposed to happen to our mother! My sister had heard about this book. We bought four of them - one for each sister and one for my Mother and Dad. It's been a wonderful resourse for asking questions and for knowing what questions to ask. We've gone to all doctor/oncologist appointments with Mother and they seemed to have been impressed with our questions and our support. I like the way the book includes personal experience stories - many of which we could relate to.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Betty C. Demoney on April 25, 2009
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AfterShock will lead you from the depths of dispair to daylight. The understanding that what you are feeling is normal and to be expected as you absorb and deal with facts of your own mortality is a true gift. The advice as to choosing the right doctor, hospital, places to go for assistance, and useful reminders as you get your life in order is invaluable. This useful and easily understood book is a truly effective guide to peace of mind.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. Clohan on April 1, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the title suggests, this is the book for you if you --- or someone you love --- gets a devastating diagnosis. But don't wait. Reading it before disaster struck was very helpful to me in several ways. It guided me through some thoughts about how I might respond to a bad diagnosis myself, but also prepared me to offer some genuine help to others when they suddenly faced bad news. If I hadn't read it myself, I probably would have been reluctant to share it with a friend at such a sensitive time. But having read this book, I observed how Dr. Gruman used her own challenging health experiences, and those of hundreds of others she interviewed, to give gentle support and genuine practical advice to people reeling from news they didn't want to get. The sad news is that I've had occasion to give two copies as gifts in recent months. The good news is that the recipients found the book extremely helpful. When a bad disgnosis comes and everyone else is lamenting "What can I do?", a concerned friend can step in with a gift of this book and feel confident that it is tasteful, sensitive, and useful because it's written by an author who's professionally well-qualified, but has also "been there" herself.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Jadon on December 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
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Author & Book Views On A Healthy Life!

Book Review: AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You--or Someone You Love a Devastating Diagnosis by Jessie Gruman, MD

Recently, I posted a blog on my site titled "I Hate Cancer," chronicling my father's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. While still in shock, my family struggled to find answers and a positive supportive doctor. An informative book I highly recommend to others in a like situation is AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You--or Someone You Love--a Devastating Diagnosis, by Jessie Gruman, Ph.D.

Dr. Gruman is the founder and president of the Center for the Advancement of Health, and independent, nonpartisan Washington-based policy institute. The center works to help people use good scientific information when making decisions about their health and health care. Most importantly, Dr. Gruman herself has received blowing shocks from doctors after being diagnosed with cancers and a heart condition.

AfterShock is for anyone who has received a negative diagnosis of AIDS, cancer, ALS, HIV, Alzheimer's disease, MS, or any other life-threatening condition. It's frightening not just for the individual, but also for his or her family. Dr. Gruman outlines how to respond to the shock, learn about the condition and treatments available, decide whether or not to involve others, find the right doctors and hospitals, get timely medical appointments, find second opinions, manage the working life, pay for the care, find relief, and finally take further steps.

Typically, as the patient or family member, we all react differently to shocks with feelings of unfairness, crying, rage, withdrawal, or running thoughts.
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