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.


  1. "...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." --> This is so true. Just to get through another day is difficult while trying to support and be there for a loved one who is sick so you do anything you can to cope and be positive for their sake. But it's not easy - in fact it's damned hard - and often people don't realise that because of the brave face we put on and because they also have no idea of the extent of the seriousness.

    Wishing your friend a Refuah Sheleimah.

  2. Wishing her a speedy recovery with all my heart. I know exactly how difficult it is to watch a loved one fight cancer... but I'm very hopeful. It sounds like the hospital is very good, and science is progressing with each day. I'll keep her in my thoughts. Hopefully, we'll have some good news soon!

  3. A beautiful and sad post.

    Just wanted to add that there is also a flip side to it, which is the need to acknowledge and appreciate the difficult work of the nurses and aides( Obviously your friend has no problems with this and is exceptionally sensitive to the workers).

    My parents a"h at the end of their lives were both in nursing homes for over a year each. They were totally helpless and needed care for every aspect of their biological functioning. The nurses and especially the aides did what they needed to do, day in day out, hour in hour out, one bed after another with almost 100% of the time not only getting no thanks, but getting not even an acknowledgement.

    I always felt that taking the time to thank the workers, was a great opportunity for Kiddush Hashem, and building of zechuyot( merits) for the ill person.

    I am sure that your friend's sensitivity to his wife, and to the staff of the hospital is creating a Kiddush Hashem, and accumulating merits for the cholah( ill woman).

    May Aliza Rochel bas Liba Yenta have a Refuah Sheleimah.

  4. Old&Wise - That's a great reminder of something I left out of the post - thank you very much!

  5. In my prayers...Refua Sheleima

  6. Sarah - Firstly, refuah shleimah to your mum. Second, thank you very much.

    Irina - Amen, thanks!

    Old&Wise - Thank you so much for your comment. It was an excellent reminder.

    SaraK - Thanks, amen.

  7. Refuah Shelaima to your friend.
    I know it's always so easy to forget that even though someone (a family member, a friend) seems fine in circumstances like these, he/she probably isn't. I remember when my aunt had cancer, I wondered why my dad always seemed very normal about it. He was hardly ever in a sad mood but seemed to be actually smiley. I realized afterwards that he was probably trying to wear a smile for everyone else who wasn't. However, exhibiting such strength to be strong for everyone else does not mean the person is not hurting inside. It is so important for people to understand that and I'm really glad you pointed that out in your post.

  8. This is a very important (but very difficult) topic. Thanks for posting it.

  9. Aliza Rochel will certainly be in our tefilos.

    I remember when my grandfather a"h was sick for years, and my grandmother once mentioned that the Jewish Press column about the struggles and challenges of spouses who become caregivers of the ill really spoke to her. Since then, I've made it a habit to read, or at least scan it.

    We can all use some perspective about one another's struggles.

    Thanks for an important post.

  10. Your friend's wife should have a refuah shleima, and your friend should be strong -- continue to be strong -- and hopefully all his good friends, yourself and Serach included, should rally around them, lend support in any way you can...when needed and wanted. It is often the case that patients and their caregivers want their privacy, as well, and that must be respected, too.
    May we only hear good news.

  11. Refuah Shleimah and lots of strength and faith to all the family and friends.