J-Source: How to keep your emotional distance as a journalist

Appeared online at J-Source.ca, Feb. 14, 2014

Teenagers aren’t usually bald, but that is the only look I have seen on 18-year-old Michael Friedman. The teenage Ewing sarcoma patient lay in a SickKids hospital bed, receiving chemotherapy drip-by-drip, while I furiously recorded observations for my feature on cancer caregivers—recently published in the March issue of Reader’s Digest Canada. It was my first time seeing cancer as a journalist, but I had witnessed this disease before.

My mother was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. More than four years later, she was in remission and I had emotionally recovered enough to examine cancer as a reporter. “Who is Caring for the Caregivers?” explores oncology from a physician’s perspective and the emotional toll involved with this line of work. However, what the final draft does not reveal is that in the past few months of reporting, my mother’s cancer returned.

“The closer you can relate to a patient, the harder it is as a doctor,” oncologist Abha Gupta, one of the main voices in the feature, told me during an interview. I realized that as a journalist, being personally connected to a story has similar side-effects.

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Also translated on Projet J: Journalistes, comment mettre ses émotions de côté?

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