Archive for Cancer

There’s No Gift Like Cancer?

This is what a hospice nurse said the patient said:

“My cancer is a gift from God.”

What is your first reaction to that? How about something like, You’ve got to be kidding!

Or . . . Does that patient have a terminal and mental illness? Or you’d be speechless and roll your eyes . . . or shake your head and mutter several tsk-tsks . . . or clamp your jaw shut because Mom told you that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Or would you nod your head in reluctant agreement?

Can you imagine that last reaction—nodding and agreeing—to the patient’s pronouncement? I can, though it helped to hear the nurse’s report of the patient’s complete sentence . . . Read More →

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Sacred Silence & Hospice

SilenceBefore meeting my new patient, I admired her Ford Mustang. The well-kept red convertible was parked on the street, by her brother’s driveway.

The license plate frame declared: Fly Away!

While I didn’t know for sure it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message was a solid clue. Based on the medical charts I’d scanned, she was a flight attendant in her early forties.

This was years ago when I was a hospice chaplain. I recollect visiting her a half-dozen times. From our first awkward handshake to the final time I sat beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship strengthened. I sensed that she learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer recklessly attacked her body. Even at my last visit, her short gray-blonde hair was stylish. Her make-up, aided by her sister-in-law, was impeccable.

In all of our time together, she never spoke one word to me. Read More →

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Even Slow Death Feels Sudden

He was solo climbing the Matterhorn. Eric fell. Eric died. A phone rang . . .

He was solo climbing the Matterhorn. Eric fell. Eric died. A phone rang . . .

My father’s dying spanned the better—or worst—stretch of a decade. Though not on his death certificate, Dad died from dementia. His decline was slow, like a daily drop of water filling a tub.

My mother’s dying occurred in the hottest stretch of a singular summer, a handful of weeks from diagnosis to death. Though not on her death certificate, Mom died because of an opportunistic, savage cancer. But her rapid decline also unfolded like a film stuck in slow motion. A solitary hour holding her hand in intensive care could feel like a week.

Then, in the midst of their dying, the phone rang. It rang while I wished my father’s cruel dementia would please, please, please come to an end. It rang while I longingly, lovingly prayed for an impossible miracle to spare Mom more pain.

In one call, my older sister informed me Dad had died. In the other, a year-and-a-half later, a nurse spoke on a phone down the hallway from Mom’s hospital room to tell me about the death. Read More →

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