A cancer doctor on losing his wife to cancer.
A year ago, after a busy night on call, I received a phone call from my mother. Instead of her usual self, she sounded anxious, with an urgency in her voice I seldom hear. I would learn that a close friend of hers had just been diagnosed with cancer.
"Do you know anything about it?"
As one of the mandatory components to our curriculum I certainly knew it in broad strokes. It was this education that allowed me to deduce based on some of my mother’s description of her friend’s results and symptoms, that the prognosis was poor.
"Yes, I do."
I wrestled with myself over the phone. How much should I say? How little? Was it my place to say anything at all? But my mother was worried for her friend. Having lost my father to cancer only years ago, she wanted at least some reassurance.
Even despite my limited experiences as a student though, I knew I could not offer any. I hesitated.
Instead, I put on my suit of armour that was my white coat and spoke objectively about what the results were, what the symptoms meant, and what the doctors may offer her in the coming weeks.
"But I do not have the full picture." I cautioned. "Her doctors are there evaluating her and this is obviously their specialty."
In a way, I was trying to wash my hands of the responsibility. I did not want the burden of knowledge that I now possessed that my mother desperately wanted. I answered her questions as best as I could. Intent not be optimistic or pessimistic.
But people always hear what they want to hear. She felt that there was still a possibility of a reversal. A recovery. A new lease on life. She just was not ready to go through everything with my father all over again. I could not muster up the strength to say anything in return.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer at the end of his days, I knew nothing about it. I was the ignorant and oblivious observer. I could still hope. I could still maintain optimism.
But now, armed with a wealth of knowledge, I fear the day when I must confront a similar situation again. When I can understand the disease, interpret results, and foresee the future. It is both a power and a curse.
Some day in the distant future, when all of my family members turn to me for guidance in those dark hours asking those questions that nobody ever wants to ask or answer - “How is he doing? Will he get better? What can we do?” - I hope I have the courage to say what is right.