A local seventy-eight-year-old woman with breast cancer seems to be coping with it admirably. She suffers some moderate side effects from her meds, but emotionally she’s relatively at peace.
Her two adult sons, who accompany her to every medical visit, sit on the edge of their chairs asking innumerable, repetitious questions.
But their emotional suffering isn’t addressed directly because they’re not “the patient.” Every day we see caregivers having a harder time than the identified patient, proving that cancer and other serious illnesses are socially contagious. One person bears the tumor, but everyone around them suffers their version of it, and they all need to be treated. Still, the hurried pace of current medical practice too often limits treatment exclusively to the patient.
To avoid that, ask yourself this question amid the patient’s circle: who’s suffering here, right now, and what are they suffering from?