I often talk with people while they’re receiving chemotherapy. Recently, one woman asked, “How long have you been doing this?”
I knew that she was talking about my work at the center, so I replied that I’ve been visiting with cancer patients for more than ten years. She then asked, “How do you do it?”
She went on, “You deal with cancer every single day. Some patients won’t ever get better. And nearly everyone you talk with must be scared, sick, or both. Doesn’t it depress the hell out of you?”
I’ve been reflecting on this question ever since. Although the question was directed to me, it just as easily could have been directed to the doctors, nurses, radiation therapists, and others who work with cancer patients on a regular basis.
I posed the question to a nurse who responded, “Everyone who begins cancer treatment will have an outcome. Sometimes that outcome is a cure, sometimes it’s not a cure but a longer life, and sometimes the outcome is that the person dies no matter what we do.” She said, “I can’t focus on the outcomes-I focus on the journey. I can make the journey better for people and doing so brings me satisfaction.”
One physician told me she wishes that no one would ever say the words, “There’s nothing we can do.” She said, “There’s always something we can do. We can control pain, we can provide comfort, we can listen.”
A hospital chaplain told me that his job is to be with people when they’re in dark and scary places. It’s not a matter of fixing things. It’s a matter of sharing the experience so that no one is alone.
There’s an underlying theme to all of these comments. Working with people with cancer requires a focus on what you can do, rather than on what you cannot do. That’s why I love this job.
Reprinted with Permission of the Ithaca Journal.
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