Archive for Cancer

A Sacred Silence

Woman on the beach

“She loved the ocean more than flying,” he had once said to me.

Before meeting my new patient, I spotted 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 unsure it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message was a solid clue. Based on the medical chart notes, she was a flight attendant in her early forties.

This was years ago when I worked as a hospice chaplain. Most of our patients lived in their homes. I recollect visiting her a half-dozen times. From our first awkward handshake to the final moment I sat beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship had grown stronger. She learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer relentlessly destroyed 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.

She never spoke one word to me.

Though the cancer spread across her once-athletic body, it had started in her throat. Long before entering hospice, she’d the lost the ability to speak. Read More →

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Cancer is a Copy-Cat?

Cancer image

I considered asking a nurse about supra glottis, but I like to limit how often I appear stupid about medical terminology . . .

In the weekly team meetings at my hospice, there is a printed list of our patients.

The sparse information on these stapled pages is confidential:

  • patient’s name and age
  • their doctor
  • date of entry into hospice care
  • clinical staff assigned to the patient
  • their disease

I will honestly admit that the names blur. Because I’ve lived in this community for several decades, I’ll occasionally recognize a name. But usually not, since there are about two million residents in our region. Every week, scores of patients appear on the spreadsheet, some newly admitted, some served by our staff for weeks and months, and even—more rarely—for over a year.

But I study their names. I try to remember each is a gift. I try to remember they are brothers, aunts, fathers, grandmas, best friends, moms, bosses, colleagues, and children. My hospice has cared for members of street gangs. We have cared for the rich and famous. Are they that different? Ralph Waldo Emerson bluntly wrote, “Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.” Read More →

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The Last Gift

the gift

Cancer as . . . a gift?

“My cancer is a gift from God . . .” is what a patient said to their hospice nurse.

What is your first reaction to that comment? How about, 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 your mother told you 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: “My cancer is a gift from God because it has brought my children closer.”

So far, in my aging baby boomer life, I’ve had several modest traumatic events that became change agents for my attitude toward self, others, and the world. One happened in the year I turned thirty. My left leg met a rocky outcropping during a tumble down a snowy mountain slope. Gravity and granite were against me, and multiple bones were broken. I ended up in a cast for months, dependent upon other people for most of that time. Before that literal and metaphoric break, a divorce from five years before had been festering in my soul. I often doubted and even loathed myself, careening between thinking today was bad but tomorrow could be worse. It wasn’t just the divorce; there were other negatives that burdened me. Nonetheless, I figured to “tough it out” on my own. But the break broke me. I became dependent. I saw people and the world (and me) with different, more forgiving eyes. Read More →

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