Falcon Heights doctor pens memoirs on coping with cancer

Heather Thompson Buum “Mirth is God’s Medicine: Coping with Cancer as a Physician” (courtesy of Joshua Tree Publishing)

What happens when a doctor becomes the patient?

Dr. Heather Thompson Buum found out in 2016 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years later and now cancer-free, the 47-year-old Falcon Heights resident and University of Minnesota physician has written two books about her experience.

“Mirth is God’s Medicine: Coping with Cancer as a Physician,” and “With Mirth and Laughter: Finding Joy in Medicine After Cancer,” were published earlier this year. 

Thompson Buum will be discussing the memoirs Saturday, Oct. 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Eggroll Queen Cafe, the former Underground Music Cafe, 1579 Hamline Ave. in Falcon Heights.

“[The books are] not just about my cancer diagnosis,” she says, “but a lifelong career in medicine.”


Turning pages

A faculty member since 2002 at the U of M where she teaches and practices general internal medicine, Thompson Buum says she’d never written “anything of this caliber” prior to her diagnosis. 

She did the needed writing in school, authored academic papers and had a poem published as a high-schooler, but nothing approaching a book.

She says she started writing about what was happening in her life in the midst of the diagnosis, finding the act of recording to be therapeutic. Soon she was also writing about her children, Sam and Lydia, her husband, Paul, her training and various moments in her career.

As the writing expanded, she dove in and her recordings over the course of the summer of 2016 became a book.

With the help of a colleague and mentor, she says her work ended up in the hands of an editor at publisher Simon & Schuster. Though the editor passed on publishing, hesitant to put out the first work of an author without an agent, she gave Thompson Buum solid feedback, saying, in essence, “This is not your usual cancer memoir.”

On the hunt for a publisher, Thompson Buum landed on Chicago-based Joshua Tree Publishing, which put out both books in March and April of this year.

She says her memoirs have several audiences: patients, families, caregivers and young doctors in training. For that last segment she hopes the books can give those nascent physicians a “sense of hope and encouragement” for what can be a difficult process.

Thompson Buum says her cancer diagnosis was when she really became a patient for the first time — “entering the clinic from the other side.” She says the books can be a guide for those seeking treatment; she wrote about things like billing and selecting a surgeon with insights gleaned from both roles.

There’s also how she coped, by enjoying music — she’s a jazz fan — running, cycling and through her faith.

She says her experience of being a patient and writing about it also gave her extra awareness of what doctors can do to buoy those they care for. “Small things make a big impact,” she says, remembering gestures like encouraging texts from caregivers and extra calls to followup.



While the books have been well-received, she says that unless they become break-out hits, they won’t be big money-makers, so she’s approaching it “more like an outreach.”

She’s spoken at conferences about the memoirs and her experiences, with more engagements to come. She notes the books include much about Minnesota — the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, musings about Prince, life at the university. They could make a good gift for someone newly diagnosed with cancer, she says, or for that someone’s caregiver.

Another book may be in the offing for Thompson Buum, but she says right now that she’s mostly blogging — find her website at www.doctor-heather.com.

She says she’s now in better shape than before her diagnosis. “I’m hoping that lasts, God willing.”


Both of Thompson Buum’s books are available online through Amazon.com or the Barnes & Noble website, www.barnesandnoble.com.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here