Who Cares When The Family Doesn't Care?
A problem that evidently many cancer patients encounter, and one I had never thought about, has just come to my attention. By this I refer to a situation where close family members appear, for a variety of reasons, to be totally indifferent to the plight of the cancer patient. In my case quite the opposite was true. I recall that all involved seemed to be actively pursuing some avenue of help for me. This took several forms which included, but were not limited to, help with filling out forms, searching the internet for up to date information on the cancer, administering medication, participation in family prayers, accompanying me to the doctors offices both local and out of state and ongoing concerns for making me as comfortable as possible, especially when I was knocked down by treatments. Put all the above together and you have a bulwark of defenses that is hard for the cancer to penetrate. I have met countless patients who reflect this experience in their own lives. There have, of course, been those cases where some member of the family is troublesome but this is usually overcome by other members of the family. Just when you think you have seen everything in the cancer wars, another situation raises its head. I can only imagine what it would have been like had it been otherwise. I dare say I would not now be here to write this article.
I recently received a letter from a lady who tells a really sad story. Now I have often dealt with cases where the patient was left alone by circumstances and had few, if any, close relatives. In cases like this, there is no expectation of support for from close family and the patient is usually free to reach out to others who are able and willing to help. In the case of this particular lady, she has a family but they are all turning away from her and for a variety of reasons. This very turning away had the effect of an anchor weighing this poor woman down with frustration and disappointment.
Go to just about any message board that offers support for cancer patients and it becomes obvious that the postings are usually from caregivers trying to find answers on behalf of a loved one. the woman of the letter writes that in the oncology waiting rooms she sees people being comforted by loved ones. She is moved to express wonder at where her family members are and why she doesn't ever see any indication that they are searching on her behalf. After working a full day she is so very tired when she gets home but still pushes herself to do her share. Her mother is ill and requires a great deal of care. They say she is their hero because she is so positive and so strong but they don't see her cry herself to sleep alone every night. She even wrote a poem in an attempt to reach out to her family with some of her concerns but has been hesitant to show it to them.
Answering a letter like this is not the easiest thing in the world to do. For one thing, there are far too many unknowns. Nevertheless, I sent an answer and some of it is excerpted as follows:
"Do not let the actions or inaction of other get into your mind at this critical time in your life. One of the first things I ever told you is that if you don't take charge of your healing program, somebody else will and you probably won't like the outcome. You really don't have to ask me if you are tired, now do you? You know darn well you are! If you don't put some order into your life, the cancer won't have to kill you - you will handle that nasty little chore all by yourself.
So, you wanted my recommendation, well I will give it to you. You must declare your own personal Independence Day. Starting tonight you must go home for a good night's sleep. You must tell your mother the reason for this and that, although you love her very much, she should consider where she will be if you go down. She must be made to see that you are rearranging things so that you can continue to care for her. Then, if your mother should happen to die while you are home resting, know that this is God's will and not yours and turn it over to Him. I think you may be surprised to find that He will be far less critical of you than you are being of yourself. As to the poem that you showed me, I think it is very powerful and not at all stupid. I believe you have found expression in the act of writing this that you have previously been unable to muster. Show it to all of them immediately and discuss what each verse means in case they don't understand. I expect you may be very pleasantly surprised at the reaction this worthy effort will elicit. Lastly, since evidently nobody else has, I GIVE YOU MY PERMISSION TO GO HOME AND GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP!"
Well, it was absolutely amazing what the poem accomplished. The brother admitted that he hadn't really bothered to find out what kind of cancer she had. The sister replied that she just couldn't find the words to talk about cancer. Another relative had been afraid of bring up the subject for fear of making matters worse. In conclusion she was happy to report that that poem that she had at first thought stupid turned out to be the means of opening up the lines of communication so necessary for winning the battle. She writes that everything is fine now! The cancer is in remission!
Looking back on my experiences in the waiting rooms of the cancer wars, I can recall many images of forlorn people sitting all alone. If I could just live it over I would find some way of engaging them in conversation even if I got slapped for it. I do recall one rather humorous incident that occurred in the Radiology waiting room at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. It was early in the battle for me and I was not yet a hardened warrior. I chanced to notice one very frail lady sitting all alone. She must have been in her late 80's and her face wore an expression that would have fit well in a funeral parlor. She was holding a big Styrofoam cup of the terrible, milky white contrast liquid that was so popular in those days. I knew she could not stand to drink it and so I decided to intervene. The conversation went as follows:
"Ma'am, you look like you could use a friend.
Yes, sir I really could.
What seems to be the matter?
They tell me I have to drink this awful tasting stuff and I just can't stand it.
Well, ma'am, if that is the problem, maybe I can help you.
Oh, would you sir, but I don't see how you can.
It's simple ma'am, I'll be glad to drink it for you.
Oh, that would be so nice! (after a pause) but maybe it would be better if I drink it myself.
Well, that might be better, ma'am, but I want you to know that I am on your side and will be glad to help any way I can."
The poor old soul then cheerfully drank the awful mess and soon went, smiling, into the inner labyrinth. As she left she gave me a smile that was worth more than money in the bank. I never knew any thing about her case other than the fact that a simple act of kindness, even though it may seem absurd to the casual observer can turn a look of death into a bright smile.
The next time any of you readers find yourself confronted by the sad face of loneliness in the cancer wards (or in life in general) just remember that it may be better to do something wildly absurd than to take the more comfortable path of doing nothing at all.
Back in 1993 Gerald White survived a 20 pound kidney tumor that subsequently went metastatic to distant oragans. After all medical treatments had failed and the dreadful "only three more months" death sentance had been delivered. He worked out a self- directed program of guided imagery that induced a remission in three months. He has served a three year term as a Director of the National Kidney Cancer Association. Through his webpage he maintains an active world wide mentoring program that has yielded many simliar remissions of cases thought to be hopeless. His book has been translated into Chinese and Hungarian. A credible Scientist, in his career before cancer, he acheived some 20 technology patents in 9 countries.
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