Shapiro’s Illness Becomes Life Work



: Lisa Martin, Coordinator, Humanities in Medicine Program; Alice Fornari, Associate Dean for Educational Skills Development; Daniel Shapiro
: Lisa Martin, Coordinator, Humanities in Medicine Program; Alice Fornari, Associate Dean for Educational Skills Development; Daniel Shapiro

On May 14, Daniel Shapiro, PhD, in a Narrative Grand Rounds performance event hosted by the Osler Society of Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, presented his dramatized lecture, “A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Chemotherapy.”

His lecture draws from his book, Mom’s Marijuana: Life, Love, and Beating the Odds. Interspersed with actual chart notes from his medical care, the book is a collection of poignant and humorous essays that chronicle his life as a young man dealing with a diagnosis of Stage IIb Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His essays describe the changes that his illness wrought on many aspects of his life, including his struggle to maintain agency at a time when his personal choices were extremely limited. One story details his determined effort to dismiss a senior physician and two residents from his hospital room by spraying them with a battery-operated power soaker water gun. The title of the book was inspired by his successful campaign to convince his extraordinarily conventional and morally conservative mother to agree to support an unorthodox—and at the time illegal—way to deal with the harsh side effects of his treatments.
Speaking to a rapt audience that included medical students, residents, fellows, faculty, physicians, nurses and staff of the North Shore-LIJ Health System and School of Medicine, Dr. Shapiro emphasized the importance of connecting to others and of hope in the face of major life challenges. His disease, which was diagnosed when Dr. Shapiro was a junior at Vassar College in 1987, and the grueling experience of being a patient with a serious and complicated illness initiated a purpose and a passion that ultimately has become his life’s work. Inspired by the significant life lessons learned during his own patient experience, his research focuses on coping with medical crises and physician-patient communication.
Dr. Shapiro is a Professor of Psychiatry and Chair of the Department of Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. In addition to his teaching and research, he makes time for speaking engagements around the US and Canada to a variety of patient and professional groups. He is always well-received. Dr. Shapiro has written about the patient experience and physician-patient relationships for The New York Times and professional journals, in addition to being a guest commentator on NPR’s” All Things Considered.” Dr. Shapiro is the author of two additional books, Delivering Doctor Amelia and And in Health: A Guide for Couples Facing Cancer Together, the product of his having lived on “both sides of the bed,” first as a patient and later as a supporter and advocate for his wife, Terry, when she faced a life-changing illness of her own.
For more information about the Osler Society and its programs, please contact Lisa Martin, coordinator, Humanities in Medicine Program, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine at or visit

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Lorraine Mesagna has a Masters degree from Hofstra University and is a freelance writer for Manhasset Press.


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