Sunday, April 22, 2007

Treating Cancer

I was speaking to my friend over Shabbos - my good friend, the one who sang me down at my wedding, with a daughter two days older than my own, whose wife is fighting cancer at the age of 22 years old. His wife is being treated at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country thanks to an amazing friend who has been working there.

The hospital recently asked him to speak to a number of their nurses as a patient advocate, in order to give the nurses the perspective of a patient and their family and friends about what issues are important to them. My friend started with their "story", then proceeded to take and answer any questions the nurses had. Apparently, he was so good - and brought them to tears on a few occasions - that they've requested for him to come back and speak to another group this week.

The following are a couple of questions and answers he particularly felt were important, and both - particularly the second - are relevant to all of us:
  • Q: What's the one point you would wish to get across to the people in this room?
  • A: All of you have been working in this field for a period of time. You service countless patients with all their problems, and to some extent, you need to block out and not think about it too much. You need to desensitize yourself to avoid being overwhelmed by the pain, the grief, the troubles - and that's fine and necessary. You've done this many times. But as many times as you may have done this, it is always the first time for the patient. Try to treat the patient as if it's their first time, even if it isn't yours.
Near the end came what my friend felt was the best question of the night:
  • Q: Almost all of the questions until now were about patient care and the like. I wanted to ask you - how are YOU doing?
  • A: You know, thank you very much for asking me that. I really appreciate that. A lot of people forget that this is really hard on us, too, and that really means a lot to me. Thank you very much. In answer to your question... I'm okay. Thank you very, very much.
This isn't just true regarding cancer. We've had friends and family who have lost pregnancies, even a baby soon after birth, and people often focus - rightfully - on the mother who has just lost so much. In the process, the husband sometimes gets almost forgotten, even though the husband has just lost what was to be his child as well. It's important not to forget that the one who suffers the most is not the only one who is suffering - there are others who are hurting incredibly as well. This is true even if they can't afford to show it all the time, because they are bearing the brunt of the work while they take on the other's responsibilities; or, because they simply don't wish to show it as they feel the need to block it out somewhat.

Be there for the patient, and be there for their family, in whatever way you can, in whatever way they wish you to. You have no idea how much they appreciate your support.

Please daven (pray) for Aliza Rochel bas Liba Yenta.
Thank you to OldandWise for noting in the comments the importance of thanking and appreciating the dedicated staff in these and all situations. It reminded me of one part which I had left out of this post...

A friend whose father is a doctor in a hospital here had a nurse come over to him, seeing that he was a religious Jew, crying and asking him to pray for a young Orthodox mother who had cancer. As you can probably guess, the young lady she was asking for was none other than my friend's wife; she, her husband, and their baby have had a tremendous impact on all those who have come in contact with them - both in the hospital and out of it.

They exemplify what a true
kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God's name] is.