Thursday, March 11, 2010


A week ago I met a man who has esophageal cancer. He seemed remarkably tranquil and accepting. “I’ve had a good life,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m going to take any treatment.”

I asked him to tell me about his good life. The first thing out of his mouth was that his dog had died last October. He burst into tears. “He was my best friend. He meant the world to me.” This man is divorced, with no close relatives and little social contact. He is truly suffering more from the death of his dog than from his cancer.

Another example. A woman recently attended our support group for the first time. When it was her turn to speak, she said, “I’ve been listening to all of you and wondering whether I ought to leave. You’ve been talking about your cancers, which is understandable, I guess, this being a cancer support group. But I don’t want to talk about my cancer. I’ve talked about it enough. It’s dominated me too much. I want to talk about my life—what’s happened, what’s happening now, and what my future might be. I’ve accepted that I’m mortal. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life in doctors’ offices. What I’d rather talk about is how I see myself, psychologically and spiritually.”

I feel relieved when someone says something like this. Restricting the conversation to cancer and treatment seems too physical, too mechanical a direction. Tumors, after all, are just errant unconscious tissues. But stories about our dog’s death, our spiritual views, about anything we’re invested in, are rich in healing potential.


We're still having some software problems with comments, so here's one I received by e-mail March 16:

The question I want my health care providers & specialists to ask is “What do your life to be like?” for the present time, near future, and further on and “What are you hoping to avoid?”  I also want to have an honest conversation about the types of treatments and activities I’m willing to try. Don’t waste my time lecturing about treatments or procedures that will not significantly improve my quality of life. I don’t want to be a lab rat or research project. I’ve accepted I’m gonna kick it, so get on board with me and quit trying to figure out a way to make me one of your success stories. Remember, this is about me & my experience. As long as I’m still alive, I want to call the shots. If you won’t walk beside me, refer me to a provider who will.  –Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Three cheers and one cheer more for the lady who refuses to be cancer-with-a-person-attached! When life becomes a series of medical appointments, tests and treatments, it’s all too easy to forget who we are. Sure, it’s a big help to tell our cancer story to people who listen and understand, but that story alone leaves out a lot: it leave out everything else about us. Each of us is a unique individual, like no other, with many dimensions. It’s as least as helpful to think and talk about what matters most to us, and about who we are and who we want to become. Our hopes, dreams and plans are vital parts of out story. We need to develop “a fierce and tender concern” for all of our self, not just the physical, and to become actively concerned with our emotional, psychological and spiritual growth. What do we really want out of our life? How can we make it different and better so that it reflects who we truly are? When we think and act more and more in that direction, not only does life become more easier, more exciting and more meaningful, but our cancer defense mechanism, our inner healing ability, often mobilizes in response.

    Ruth Bolletino