I have found over the years the challenge of facing a difficult and terminal health prognosis and the tendency to leap on anything that in the most minimal of ways sounds hopeful.
I do understand this balancing act between stark reality and unconditional hope – I walked that very tightrope as my brother fought with cancer for six years. My remarks are based on what I saw working for us, and what didn’t work for the Garrett family as we all rode sidesaddle with cancer.
I noticed this tendency to reach for the hope pill in most everyone in my family at one time or another, and saw it in myself too. Damn it all, it was my brother and it was hard to face square on his dying and ultimate death. Hope seemed such a temptation and after all it is well offered in many unique ways by our systems of care.
Another experimental drug, another round of chemotherapy, an alternative naturopathic remedy, high dose vitamin c therapy, targeted chemotherapy to name a few tools that come hand-in-hand with a good dose of hope.
The way we speak about the prognosis is also laced with hope pills as many of our health practioners don’t want to be the bearer of bad tidings. Even with clear and direct language from the medical system, we the listener can and often do block out those things that we really are not willing to hear.
It was the case with my dear brother Peter as he faced his final round of chemo coupled with a stem cell transplant. It was said that he was a good candidate for this new treatment – the hope pill had been offered. As we all buzzed around the Internet looking for ‘proof’ that this new therapy would work for Peter I could feel unreasonable hope gradually eclipsing reality.
“Just in case this new therapy doesn’t work why don’t we all gather in Maple Ridge and have some family time together as we support Peter and this new therapy.” I asked one and all by email.
Mom and Carrie were in Ontario, Susan was in Nova Scotia, and I was in British Columbia awaiting my brother’s arrival from the Yukon. I didn’t want hope to deprive us all of one last family reunion with Peter if in fact this was his last hurrah.
“Yeah, just in case. Mom you, Carrie and Sue can stay with us. April will stay with friends in Richmond much closer to the Vancouver General Hospital.” I said nudging the family toward a couple of weeks in Vancouver for all of us and for Peter’s sake especially.
All the while though, I fully intended for Peter to fully recover while keeping a watchful eye on the reality of his health. Rather solid intention coupled with love than simply blind hope.
As it turned out our family reunion was indeed the last of it’s kind as Peter died four months later. Thankfully we found a balance between hope and reality that enabled my entire family to have one last gathering. A get together that created some fine memories and gave us all the chance to remember together life with Peter while he was still alive. It gave us all the opportunity to make meaning of our lives with him, and to say those things we all wanted to say – just in case. We all got a chance to let go gently and with grace – just in case.