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The Power Of Love: Family And Friends
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA

Scientific research is finally helping us define the role psychological and social support can play in the treatment of illness. There is evidence that social connection -- having people to call on for help reduces the risk of dying from all causes. Our health suffers if we lack social contact. Yet isolation often becomes a reality for people when they are ill. Even well-meaning family and friends may withdraw.

We used to think the fear of dying was really fear of suffering and pain. But a 1996 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that critically ill patients with AIDS or cancer considered the fear of death, pain, and suffering to be less important than the fear of losing control over how they live and of their bodily functions. They feared losing their dignity and their independence and becoming a burden on friends and family.

But it also is clear, as the stories in this section illustrate, that many times it is because of their love for their friends and family that people persevere in the face of a grave illness or a life-threatening situation.

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First appeared May 1, 2008; updated June 12, 2009