Fanale shares what it’s like to live with cancer diagnosis in new book

DR. JAMES E. FANALE, former CEO and president of Care New England Health System who is pictured with his wife, has written a book called “ONWARD: A Teaching, and a Love Story – For Physicians, and Everyone,” detailing his journey as a cancer patient from his perspective as a former health care provider. / COURTESY CARE NEW ENGLAND HEALTH SYSTEM

PROVIDENCE – During his 40-year-plus career, Dr. James E. Fanale faced no shortage of challenges.

As CEO and president, he led Care New England Health System, the state’s second-largest health system, through the COVID-19 pandemic, handled financial misfortunes of several hospitals and oversaw an attempted merger with Lifespan Corp. that ultimately never came to fruition.

But even though Fanale understood the ins and outs of health care and treating patients, nothing could prepare him for the news that came in March 2022. Fanale had gone into the office thinking he would get a simple cough checked out but came out with a diagnosis of lung cancer.

“It was a hell of a shock,” Fanale said.

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Fanale began undergoing treatment and soon learned how the patients he had spent his career helping felt.

“I started treatments and was overwhelmed … coming from experience as a provider, I realized I didn’t know what it was all about,” Fanale said.

THE COVER OF “ONWARD: A Teaching, and a Love Story – For Physicians, and Everyone” by Dr. James E. Fanale. / COURTESY CARE NEW ENGLAND HEALTH SYSTEM


These experiences moved Fanale to publish his book, “ONWARD: A Teaching, and a Love Story – For Physicians, and Everyone.” All of the proceeds will be donated to a lung cancer support group at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where Fanale is being treated, he said.

“I’m a pretty private person, but I bare my soul in this,” said Fanale, who noted that he wanted to share his story so others could have a better understanding of what patients and their caregivers go through.

Fanale not only details his journey as a cancer patient but also gives readers a glimpse into his upbringing and family life.

The book emphasizes that providers should practice empathy with their patients, adding that he believes it’s important for providers to keep in touch with patients after giving difficult news.

“It’s the way I was taught,” Fanale said.

Fanale noted that some commercials depict cancer patients with smiles on their faces, but the joyous expressions only tell a sliver of the story.

“Let me tell you, behind those smiles is a lot of fatigue,” Fanale said.

While Fanale continues to battle his cancer each day, he expressed gratitude to his wife for serving as a dedicated caregiver.

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at

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