A few words by Stephen Garrett
The way we approach dying and death, especially cancer, is in the form of a battle or a war. This story written by Maryann Arnold about her late husband Henk and his battle with cancer illustrates this clearly as well as showing us some of the not so wonderful patient care practices some medical folks tend to use. I encourage you to read it with an open heart and notice for yourself what sort of ‘battle’ you would like to live if a terminal illness were to be knocking on your door. How would you like to be treated by the medical system?
I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s strange how these memories stay with you so clearly, as though they have been tattooed on every cell of your body. No laser can remove these tattoos, that’s for sure!
Henk had been on hormone injections for his cancer. They were chemically castrating him and this was going to be the answer, the cure. So with Henk’s survival in mind the side affects didn’t seem like such a high price to pay. He had decided from the very beginning that he would do whatever it took as long as it kept him here on this earth with me.
The day came when we were told Henk was being referred to an oncologist “ just in case” the doctor said, in a way giving us false hope yet again. Another one of those blows that knock you down and it takes a day or two to get back up. That all starts of course right at the beginning when you’re told they think it’s cancer, then the biopsies, then the scans, and on and on. Every time it’s another kick in the gut and we would struggle to get our heads and hearts around it and continue to get back up, time and time again. I am certain this is part of the reason they call it a ‘battle’ as we felt like we were battling to get our old life back.
The appointment was made and we went to see the oncologist a few weeks later. A man sat across the desk from us barely acknowledging. We sat in front of him sick to our stomachs, our world crashing down around us. He continued to talk but he didn’t making any eye contact with us as he spoke. He was too busy writing out yet another formula of toxins. We both felt like a number on a chart or a statistic for a report instead of two human beings sitting across from him. All I could think was, my love’s body is being ravaged by this horrible disease and they are coming up with an injectable cocktail that was worse than the disease itself. Having worked in hospital pharmacy, I knew more than I wanted to. I knew if we had a chemo spill while mixing it, you vacated the room as fast as you could. So you can’t be near it and yet they will be injecting that into Henk’s veins.
I remember driving home after the appointment in silence, both of us trying not to cry, trying to protect each other. When we got home we let it all go…had a good cry and then picked ourselves back up, yet again. That night we decided to shave Henk’s head instead of letting his hair fall out on it’s own. I carefully got everything ready. I placed a chair in front of the full length mirror and Henk sat down. I lovingly placed a towel around his neck and reached for the clippers with a lump in my throat. When I turned the clippers on, the sound resonated straight into my heart. I began to shave his head, crying softly the whole while. Suddenly it hit me…it was as though Henk was a warrior and I his wife was preparing him for battle. A battle that I did not want him to go into. A battle that I knew deep down he would not win but I could not let that thought infiltrate the fortress around my heart or it would make it true.
Now I know why they call it a “battle with cancer”….because it is. My whole mind set changed and a warrior surfaces from me, a warrior that I had no idea was even there. Henk was a warrior too, a damn good one, in more ways than one and he did so with grace and dignity.
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