I visited the elderly couple on the oncology ward just after the wife had been diagnosed with probable advanced stage cancer.
While the patient slept, I spoke with the husband of his concerns about the procedures and treatments and hoped our conversation alleviated his anxiety about his wife’s care.
Then he asked me “the question.”
“Everything’s going to be allright, isn’t it? She’s going to get better after all of this?”
I had not yet been asked “the question” since I began working with cancer patients one year ago. I wonder if he saw the tears forming in my eyes although I tried to hide them. I thought of Richard and Stephen and the questions I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to hear the answers. I came back to the present and looked into eyes that were pleading for an answer I couldn’t give him. I knew he was really asking me to assure him that his wife would win her battle with cancer.
“Everything’s going to be allright, isn’t it?”
I slowly answered, “I want to say that.”
He seemed to understand and sadly responded, “…but you can’t say that.”
I quietly answered, “Yes, I can’t say that.”
We spoke briefly after that and I asked him to discuss “the question” with the doctor. I took his hand and told him that we would do everything we could to help his wife fight the cancer and that he or his wife could call on me if they needed anything.
Anything but the answer to his question…
Some days are more difficult than others.