‘Nothing Personal – disturbing undercurrents in cancer care’, by Mitzi Blennerhassett, Radcliffe Publishing Ltd, foreword Professor Karol Sikora

A book for anyone with an interest in health or social care: from clinicians, planners and politicians, to patients, carers and the general reader. This is a book for everyone!

  • Winner, Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Awards 2009

‘Unputdownable’ – MJA GP judges Tom Smith and Emma Hill. ‘Both judges confessed that they were not usually enthusiastic about personal accounts of illness, as most were effectively a single case history. However, Blennerhassett’s book …identified so many deficiencies in cancer care and in particular the difficulties medical and other staff had in communicating with patients and understanding their needs. This is a book, not just for the general reader, but for every doctor, medical student and nurse to read, whatever their role in the care of all patients. It is a tribute to her that the book is not a bit miserable or depressing, but funny poignant, thought-provoking and, above all, a wonderful read.’ MJA Newsletter, April/May 09.

‘I feel it’s an incredible privilege to be allowed to follow her journey so closely. This is a remarkable book…essential reading for all who deal with cancer patients – health professionals, politicians, health service developers, carers and of course patients themselves. It clearly gives a distillation of what cancer patients want.…(It) will surely inspire change.’ Professor Karol Sikora in his foreword.


Excerpts from new Customer Review on Amazon:

‘…When I look back on nearly twenty years as a medical specialist, I can recognize many of the behaviors in my own practice that caused unnecessary suffering to patients just like Mitzi. Throughout the book, Mitzi raises questions about the nature of her own reactions and what could have been done to improve her experience of treatment. I almost wrote “experience of care” but care and compassion were singularly lacking. She had to wait many years to begin to find the compassion and understanding she needed for healing.

Mitzi backs up her suggestions with a good deal of research and many references for the importance of skills like good doctor-patient communication. While I cannot disagree with any of her recommendations, I feel instinctively uneasy about ascribing her difficulties to a lack of doctors’ communication skills. The problem is much more fundamentally about the doctors’ attitude to patients and a narrow focus on disease rather than treating the whole person…

Three fundamental shifts occurred in my practice: letting go of the need to be always the expert; allowing the patient set the agenda for a consultation; and learning the attitudes and skills of compassionate, whole person care.

With the insights brought by these shifts, I would welcome patients like Mitzi and derive great satisfaction and pleasure in serving their needs and concerns, and helping them heal from past trauma…

Nothing Personal is an extraordinary book containing an utterly compelling account of the harsh realities of the patient experience. Mitzi has been at the forefront of the health consumer movement in the UK and many of the things she writes about have changed for the better.

But to my mind there is still a fundamental lack of compassionate, whole person care and the imbalance of power between health professionals and patients is still alive and well.

Nothing Personal has many powerful lessons for all health professionals and not just those working in cancer care, for whom it should be a mandatory text.

I highly recommend Nothing Personal to anyone interested in humanizing healthcare or improving the patient experience.’

Dr Robin Youngson



Reviewer: Rebecca Bailey-McHale, community health nurse, Department of Health Isle of Man

“Nothing personal” is part of the Radcliffe patient narrative series and demonstrates what a powerful medium this is. This is one of the most humbling and emotive books that I have read in a long time. It packs a huge punch and puts the person back into the patient. The book follows Mitzi’s journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival.  The author shows in a skilful manner how Mitzi the person and Mitzi the patient have to learn to face the reality of cancer and its inevitable fallout. At times the book was difficult to read, evoking as it did a sense of professional shame… Mitzi learns to channel her own frustrations and by the end of the book, has found her voice and receives acknowledgement and recognition of the atrocious lack of empathy and compassion she experienced…

The last few chapters show Mitzi’s increasing presence in service user representation and reflect the strides made in putting the patient at the centre of their care. Although the story happened two decades ago, the message to professionals is as strong as ever; for us it is our work life but for the patient it is literally their whole life

Posted by Ibadete Fetahu, 24 July 2012.

(Read page ‘Why Nothing Personal’ on this site and about why health professionals should not feel professional shame, but be proud that they are able to acknowledge the need for change and learn to protect future patients. (M Blennerhassett)


(The message to professionals certainly is ‘as strong as ever’ – see Dr Kate Granger’s ‘The Other Side’, an account of her recent cancer experiences. – MB)


‘This is a beautifully written book, styled in a natural mix of prose, poetry and discussion points, which provides a rare insight into the thoughts of someone who can express their innermost perceptions and feelings as she reflects on her own condition, her exchanges – whether good (some), bad (often), or indifferent (at times) – with the health service…If the quality of cancer care is to be built on a triad of effectiveness, safety and patient experience, it is this last element that is least accessible to the caring professions, unless writers like Mitzi share their accounts with us. Fortunately, she does so in a way that is readable, honest and challenging, but also full of hope that things can and will improve …This remarkable book…should be on the essential reading list for those striving to improve the quality of care for cancer and to understand and improve the experience of their patients more generally.’ Professor A. Niroshan Siriwardena, Quality in Primary Care 2009;17.

‘She punctuates each chapter with discussion points and simple statements of how it could be handled better and what needs to change. Dr Eric Watts, The Bulletin of The Royal College of Pathologists, Number 144 – October 2008.

‘It was a bit of a departure to find myself sitting up in bed one night almost unable to put down ‘Nothing Personal’ by Mitzi Blennerhassett. My usual literary fare is military history, but I left ‘Testament of Youth languishing on the floor to read this book; a fitting tribute to a powerful piece written by another feisty lady who takes on the medics in the same way that  Vera Brittain took on the establishment in her writings… It ought to be required reading for all doctors, medical students, hospital executives, and everyone who believes in patient partnership. This is not a tragedy, It is an uplifting celebration of life..’ Dr John Nottingham, ACP News, summer 2009

Mitzi discusses ideas such as journaling, poems and art, which all helped her work through personal issues during her journey. Her poems and art are included in the book giving a very personal insight into her journey. At the end of her story she tells of becoming a survivor and how she became an advocate for patients’ rights and has continued to work in this area….I would recommend this book to all members of the multidisciplinary team working in the oncology area. It would also provide an insight into the patient’s perspective for health professionals, students and committee members dealing with oncology patients…and persons interested in patient advocacy.’ Cancer Council of Australia Forum.

Cancer as compulsive reading?’ RCGP News, August 2008.

‘Congratulations, what a book. It is fantastic and provides an insight into the patient’s world that I have never been privileged to see before…I have circulated it to all the (Cancer) Network Directors, suggesting that they have a copy for their teams…to remind them what we are here for. JT-C, Cancer Network  Director.

‘She readily acknowledges the medical expertise of those who treated her, but is baffled and annoyed by the difficulty she had in getting straight answers from her doctors and the perception – clearly not unfounded – that what answers she was getting were rather less than the whole picture….Although she may be a feisty individual, she still felt highly intimidated within the doctor-patient relationship and worn down by the conveyor belt culture that she experienced…Professor Sikora says that it is  ‘essential reading for all who deal with cancer patients’. That is a recommendation to be wholeheartedly endorsed. Mr Gordon Cropper, former Lay Chair of the Royal College of Pathologists’ Lay Advisory Committee.

‘Nothing Personal gets a rating of 5 from Carolyn Bonellie: ‘A must read. An excellent book. A lot of her thoughts were mine’’.  Maggie Centre, Beatson.

‘A superb read, but I really wish it had been around when I was a medical student…’ Dr J N – personal communication.

‘Started reading your book after dinner and at 10.04pm I’m still reading it…Very strong stuff, as well as shocking and very moving and so engrossing and well-written that I can’t put it down! I’m certain that it will have a profound effect on those who read it and I think it should be compulsory reading for anyone in healthcare! I B – personal communication.


One Response to Reviews

  1. Pingback: Please can you help? | Even stars explode

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