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Cancer-Stricken Psychiatrist Crafts Unique Legacy
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 10 page 22-25

Suppose you were 35 years old and had everything to live for—a burgeoning psychiatric career, a loving partner, a child, and colleagues and friends who described you in glowing terms.

But suppose you were told that you didn't have long to live. What would you do with the time remaining to you?

Would you continue your practice? Take a big trip? Or would you do something that would help other people in a similar situation? That's what Joelle Pauporte, M.D., a psychiatrist in West Hartford, Conn., chose to do: she launched a novel project that will touch many other dying parents and bring them closer to their children.

In the summer of 2003—shortly before her 34th birthday—Pauporte learned that she had breast cancer. Although she had a modified radical mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation, she was told last summer that the cancer had spread to her bones and that she would probably have only another year or two to live.

She decided that she would devote much of that time to bonding with her 3-year-old daughter, Halle. One of the things she was especially determined to do was read books to Halle.

"When you are feeling so ill that you can't get on the floor and color with crayons, when you are too tired to do anything, you can still pick up a book, sit and snuggle with your child, and read," Pauporte said in an interview.

Pauporte also resolved to start collecting good books for Halle to read as she grows older, both to encourage Halle's love of reading and to have her daughter feel "comforted by reading, to feel this warmth, almost as if I were there."

To select appropriate books for Halle, Pauporte sought the assistance of Jane Breen, the children's librarian at the West Hartford Public Library. In one conversation with Breen, Pauporte said: "You know, we could do something similar for other parents" with cancer by helping them use reading to bond with their children.

Thus, with the help of Breen, family, and friends, Pauporte's Light One Little Candle Book Drive came into being in February. The concept is very simple, Pauporte explained. People donate new books to a hospital. Each parent with cancer at the hospital can choose one of these books to bring home to share with his or her child. The book is theirs to keep. A bookplate is placed inside the front cover of each book so the parent can inscribe a special note to his or her child.

In March, Hartford Hospital's Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York University Cancer Center, and CancerCare for Kids in New York City started to participate in the book drive. Mostly through word of mouth, people learned of the book drive and started donating new books, so that within only a few weeks, several thousand new books were received.FIG1

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Joelle Pauporte, M.D., reads to her daughter, Halle. "For a short time, she and I can get lost in the story together. I also hope that she will remember me, or at least that feeling of warmth, from our reading together." 

Photo courtesy of Joelle Pauporte, M.D.

On April 12 Pauporte appeared on both ABC and NBC television to publicize the drive. After that, she got phone calls and e-mails from hospital staff in California, Michigan, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Toronto indicating that they wanted to participate in the book drive.

When asked how psychiatrists might help her with her book drive, Pauporte said: "To get people they know, friends, to donate new books.... The main thing is getting the word out.... A thousand books will go in a couple of days, there are that many cancer patients in each hospital."

If only one of her dreams about the project could be fulfilled, she said, it is that the "project will go on long after I am not here."

Pauporte completed her first three years of psychiatry residency at Cornell University Weill Medical College, and her fourth one at Hartford Hospital. In addition, she was a member of the 2002-2004 class of the APA/Bristol-Myers Squibb Fellowship in Public Psychiatry.

Her supervisors in both of her residency programs commented on her and her book drive.

"Joelle is a passionate, committed, young psychiatrist.. .who has a strong background in the care of children with special needs," said Elizabeth Auchincloss, M.D., director of psychiatry residency training at Cornell. "I am not surprised to learn that even as she is struggling with her own health, she is interested in contributing to the care of others. The book drive is an exciting, creative, and much-needed effort to attend to the emotional well-being of children and families in crisis."

"Joelle is a talented, creative, and generative person who was determined to enhance our program and did just that," said Harold Schwartz, M.D., psychiatrist in chief at Hartford Hospital. "Her attention more recently has focused on making something positive out of her experience... .Realizing that, when energies for all else were flagging, she could always sit and read to her daughter and that the connection established by doing so was invaluable to both, she has thrown herself into the Light One Little Candle Book Drive as a lasting legacy.

"But more important than providing the books, she has provided the model for maintaining the connection between parent and child through the imaginative power of reading in the face of the most challenging adversity. In this way, she has established herself as a therapist and educator for our entire community."

More information about the Light One Little Candle Book Drive and donating books to it is posted online at<www.lightonelittlecandle.org>.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Joelle Pauporte, M.D., reads to her daughter, Halle. "For a short time, she and I can get lost in the story together. I also hope that she will remember me, or at least that feeling of warmth, from our reading together." 

Photo courtesy of Joelle Pauporte, M.D.

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