My Friend and Her Cancer – Today We Had “The Talk”
Posted on June 1, 2017
When I woke up yesterday morning, it felt like any other day. The dogs wanted to go outside and I wanted coffee. This was going to be a short morning time for me. My sweet friend, her son and I were to head into Raleigh for my friend’s 9:30 am appointment with her oncologist. For almost a year I had been going with her to these appointments. Some appointments had been at Big Duke, but the majority of the appointments, like this one this morning, were at the Duke Raleigh Cancer Center in Raleigh, NC.
I fixed my cup of coffee and headed for the shower. Nothing wakes me up like a steamy shower and sweetly scented soap. Scrubbing those foamy bubbles against my skin perks me right up. My mind was doing its usual inventory of things to do today. We would get Emma’s check-up done, discuss the latest steps for her to take in fighting her cancer and then head out to get a nice late lunch. On the way home I would need to pick up a few groceries. We might stop by Belk’s and check out the sales racks. Emma gets cold a lot. Maybe we could find some nice new long sleeved tops with great close out sale prices. Oh yes, everything was just cheesy-wheezy.
It didn’t take long to get to the doctor’s office. We arrived about 15 minutes early, checked in and the nurse took Emma to get her blood work done. Everything was about as routine as it could be. Emma’s son had arrived from California about a week ago and she was enjoying introducing him to her nurses. As usual it was a busy morning there at the cancer center. Most people came as couples, a daughter with a Mother, a husband and wife or like Emma and me, a friend with another friend. Not everyone who is there looks like they are fighting some type of cancer. Sometimes the only way to tell who was the patient was to look for the armband.
We had been told that there was a bit of a wait time. However, it wasn’t too long before we scored an exam room. When we first started coming together I wondered how they could seem to almost always be running behind on appointment times. It didn’t take but a few visits for me to understand that cancer has a way of messing up the best of schedules. There are patients who will have a medical emergency while seeing their doctor. Cancer has its own way of setting events into play that have to be addressed right then. If there is a delay, patience pays off. One has no way of knowing when it might be that their health situation will require extra care and demand extra time from the doctors and nurses. Another thing that I noticed was that the doctors and nurses all walk fast. The battle against cancer doesn’t allow for much slow walking by the medical staff.
Emma’s doctor came in. I find comfort in seeing this doctor. Earlier this year, in March, Emma had asked me to be her healthcare power of attorney and living will point person. For me to have trust in a doctor is quite hard. After all, this Duke Raleigh entity was part of the Duke Raleigh Hospital that had so horribly caused injuries to my husband and indeed, had all but taken his life. As if the injuries weren’t bad enough, there was an attempt to hide their wrong doing by falsifying medical records. I was still fighting for those people to be held accountable. I recalled the time when I first talked with Emma about her cancer treatment. She said that she was going to Duke Raleigh. It was as if I had to bite on a ten-penny nail to keep my mouth shut. I was not a happy camper. I didn’t want to go anywhere near a Duke of any kind and here I was, stuck. It was Emma’s decision and the last thing she needed was for me to doubt her choice. Then I met “Dr. G”. If I ever needed to meet a Duke doctor, I can truthfully say that I am so glad I met and got to know “Dr. G”.
Our visit started off like many others. Dr. G met Emma’s son and then started briefing him on his mother’s cancer and how the course of treatment had been going. Somewhere in that conversation, we found ourselves having the one thing that I known would come but didn’t know when it would happen. It is what I had referred to as “The Talk”. When someone you care for, someone you love, is fighting a terminal cancer, it is something that the passage of time will bring to you. “The Talk”. Tests had revealed that Emma’s cancer was not positively responding to the medicine. It was not hindering the cancer tumor’s growth enough to make a good difference.
I listened to Dr. G explain this to Emma and her son. I watched Dr. G’s face, her caring face, as she shared that it might be time for Emma to consider whether or not to continue with some type of treatment. Was it time to continue trying to delay an approaching death or was it time to seek out palliative care measures? I saw caring and compassion blended with the medical prognosis of what was happening inside of Emma’s body. I saw what I always had wanted for Emma. Her doctor, sharing with her, caring for her and letting her know that no matter the choice, she was Emma’s partner in this fight against cancer. I saw in Dr. G the person I had always thought a great doctor should be. In all the times before, she had been the same way and I had so appreciated having a doctor that wanted Emma to have everything she needed to fight her cancer. Yesterday, as I watched Dr. G and Emma talk, broken places in me started to heal. God knew what Emma needed and Emma has the best doctor, a doctor that has been the answer to my prayers for Emma’s care. God also knew that the healing I needed would be found here too. This blessed woman doctor, with beautiful blond hair and a red shade of lipstick I so wished I could wear, was helping me to heal in ways I didn’t think could happen. This doctor was helping my friend to better understand death. By my being a witness to pure love and care between a patient and her doctor, the broken-hearted parts of me were starting to mend too.
As Emma started to cry, Dr. G comforted her. Her son choked back tears and held tightly to his Mother’s hand. That’s what happens when the time comes and you are having “The Talk”. I had dreaded it coming and now it was happening. My heart was crying its own tears as I sat there. My job was to pray for each of them as they discussed the reality of what was coming and what choices were left if continued treatment was desired. I don’t know what life holds for me when the time comes for me to face having “The Talk”. I only know that I want it to be like what I saw yesterday. My doctor, my loved ones and me, making choices for what the future is bringing and how I want to face that future.
As our visit time came to an end, Dr. G said that she would meet with us in two weeks. At that time, Emma could decide to take an intravenous chemotherapy treatment or Emma could opt for palliative care. Dr. G told Emma that whatever the decision Emma reached, Dr. G would be her doctor. The thing I will remember most is that I had been there to witness the love of a doctor for her patient. I had seen the complete trust in Emma’s face for her doctor. Love, in order to be complete needs trust. Both love and trust were in that room together and because of it, the cancer would lose again. Cancer can take a life but it cannot destroy the bonds of trust and love formed in our memories of those trying times.