Sunday, December 11, 2005

So Many Suffer

I just wanted to share an experience I had at the cancer clinic on Friday. After my CT scan, I went upstairs to the cancer clinic to have my blood drawn. I signed in and sat down to wait my turn. The clinic is a really comfortable place with comfortable, upholstered easy chairs and sofas and love seats. I sat over by the TV area and was watching the news. I was the only one in that area. Soon a little wisp of a lady and her husband came and sat on the couch very near me. She immediately caught my attention because she had obviously been very ill and had a very drawn, sunken look about her. However, she had taken great care in applying her makeup and lipstick to look as good as she could. Her husband was a large man and judging by his age, I would guess she was in her 50's, although it was hard to tell.

Soon a lady came out and sat beside her to get some information, a history, I guess, and was busy filling out forms for her. I truly did not listen as I felt it was none of my business. However, the tone of the conversation changed and I began to tune in. I only caught bits and pieces, but it touched me to my core. Through tears she vented her frustrations in dealing with her disease. I don't know what type of cancer she has, but I did hear her say that she could not find a support group because her cancer was so rare that only a couple of people in the U.S. had it. She lamented the fact that she could not find anyone who could truly understand what she was going through. She mentioned that one of the characters on "Desperate Housewives," which I don't watch, had said she wore a double zero size dress. This lady said that character looked plump compared to her. I would have to guess she was probably right in her assessment. She said she had to now shop for clothes in the children's department and nothing seemed appropriate for a mature adult woman. Apparently eating causes major problems for this lady and she said that on more than one occasion when she told others about that they would invariably mention that they too had bouts of indigestion. She said that was an example of people unable to understand her situation because bouts of indigestion did not even begin to compare with how she was suffering. Apparently she was a professional baker or cook, and I got the impression she did this from her home. She said she can't even tell what her food tastes like anymore and she has to have her husband taste it for her to tell her if it is good or not. She just wanted to be able to talk to someone who understood. She said she vents sometimes at home, but she can't keep burdening her husband all the time with her tales of woes. Her husband just looked lost and terribly sad. He kept patting her leg to try to comfort her. As she talked, tears kept welling up in my eyes and I began praying for her.

Right after I began praying, she mentioned she felt ashamed that she even felt anger towards God that He was allowing this to happen to her and she didn't know the reason. Even her Christian friends couldn't understand and she was afraid that she was beginning to doubt her own faith. She said she was prepared to die, but even that wasn't allowed for her. What she missed most was feeling "normal." She said she knew that this was her “new normal,” but even then she couldn't accept and adjust to that. She continued to pour her heart out to this stranger who sat beside her, who listened with great compassion, massaged her shoulder and handed her tissues. I couldn't catch everything she was saying, but words continued to spill out and I continued to pray really hard for her.

Soon, but I am not really sure how soon it was, my name was called to go for the blood draw. I stood up, took a few steps over to her, interrupted her and, with tears in my eyes, just told her I had been sitting there praying for her and even though I didn't know her, I cared about her and wanted to understand. I then went for the blood draw.

I was told I could wait for the results and I said I would. I was hoping the lady was still out there and I could have a real conversation with her. However, when I walked out of the lab, there she was walking down the hallway toward me. She stopped me, put her hand on my arm and just simply and very sincerely said, "thank you for that."

I have been thinking about her ever since. I also thought about the hundreds and even thousands of others who are suffering world wide with so many terrible tragedies and just want someone who understands. Isn't that what we all want?

Was she wrong to be mad at God? I can't really judge that, but the scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are filled with examples of many people, strong in their faith, who had times of doubt and even anger toward God. Perhaps it must be normal. I do think He welcomes our honest dialogue with Him, even if it includes all those emotions. He understands, even when we can't.

I thought about the ACOR list for CLL patients that I am a member of. There are well over 2,000 members of that list, although many don't post but read regularly. I think that is why we are there -- for support, understanding, and even education. We want to know there are others going through what we are going through. There is an abundant supply of education, understanding, and especially support on that list. There are other ACOR.org lists for other cancers, too. I just wish I had an opportunity to mention that site to that lady in the waiting room.

We all adjust in different, very personal ways, but often in similar ways too. On the CLL list, when someone is brave enough to post their emotional crisis, many members rally around for support. Sometimes members publish their supporting comments on the list for all to read, but also send personal emails. So many have testified to that and how it helps.

A while ago, I posted the ‘cycle of grief’ on the site for a lady that didn't know why she was feeling what she was feeling. This is something I teach in one of my classes and it is applicable to those coping with the news of a terminal illness or even coping with the death of a loved one.

There are five stages of grief:
1. The first stage is denial and isolation -- "not me, it can't be true, maybe the test is wrong. I want a second, third, fourth opinion"

2. Second stage is anger - "why me?" The anger is often displaced and taken out on others. As for me, I shout real loud a lot at the crazy drivers on the interstate every morning on my way to work -- but I don't make eye contact :) As a reminder, I even put a sign on my board at work that said "you can only get angry at the disease, not anyone or anything else."

3. Third stage is bargaining - may take the form of something like "please God, if I promise to be good and do right and eat right and exercise and stop doing (whatever personal sin you are feeling really guilty about), will You please cure me?"

4. Fourth stage is depression - numbness, a sense of great loss. We have probably all experienced this in various degrees.

5. Fifth stage is acceptance - however, there is some danger here of giving up too soon.

That is a rather simplistic explanation and there are more details that I left out, but I didn't think you wanted to sit through a class right now.

Now, do we neatly go through the stages? No. In fact I think we can be in a couple at the same time and I know we can be cycling through various stages multiple times.

Tears? Heck, throw them into all the stages if you like and don't feel guilty. (But for goodness sakes, don't show me any Hallmark card commercials or "Extreme Home Makeover" when someone else is in the room. I am a MAN, you know!) I think it helps to know what can happen and is happening emotionally and realize it is perfectly NORMAL!

When we pass the stranger on the street or even that other patient sitting in the waiting room, we can't know what personal struggle they are going through. But somehow, it helps us in our own struggles when we reach out to those that are battling through their own difficulty.

4 comments:

DavidE said...

John,
Great blog! I too have strugled with my faith from time to time. However, everytime I attend Mass these days I am incredibly emotional. I cry from time to time but it is becuase the doubt is long past - now I find myself closer than ever to Christ.

I too will pray for the stranger you encoutered, we all should.

(anod thing about my grieving, I went from Stage 1 to 5 over the period of about a week. That is not to say I still don't doubt and question but I quickly move on).

Thanks again - peace be with you and all your readers!

Anonymous said...

great

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