What happens when you are given the news you have 3 months to live? Like the climax of a movie when the group draws straws and the last person picks the short straw. You never think it's going to be you. So we shrug it off thinking "wont happen to me". Then the universe reminds us our time is finite by giving a short straw to a close patient, relative, friend. It is humbling to see the stages of suffering, it's heartbreaking to experience the visceral feeling of death as it approaches another person. As a doctor I thought it was "proper" to be stoic to death so as to convey to the grieving family a confidence that the doc can still be a clear headed decision maker in the tornado of emotion that occurs during the last breath. I have matured to learn that putting a shield up to the emotional suffering of others also blocks you from expressing your own suffering. If you don't know what its like to hurt, how can you relate to the one that is hurting? I am not saying we have to have cancer to treat it.....but we should learn compassion. Not all people are born with this but luckily I think it can be nurtured out of someone. I believe our cells are hardwired to come to the aid of others. We feel good when witnessing an act of kindness. It has been studied that when an act of kindness is performed, the giver develops high levels of the hormone serotonin just like the receiver. It has also been measured that the observer to this act of kindness has a serotonin release just by watching. So why is it that some people act so cold in the face of suffering. And how ironic that some doctors that are sworn to "do no further harm" do just the opposite and harm with poor advise.
Standard Oncologist: "you don't have to worry about eating....it doesn't matter in the long run"
Integrative Oncologist: "lets teach you to avoid sugars, eat small meals more frequently...can you juice? .. fish is ok if you like it"
Standard Oncologist: "the statistics on this kind of cancer are poor and you have 3 months to live"
Integrative Oncologist: "I have a patient who came in worse than you and she is alive and well in remission".
Standard Oncologist: "the experimental protocol medicine says your outcome is not what we want, so sorry but good luck"
Integrative Oncologist: "I don't want to worry about the cancer right now, lets work on the medical problems that will kill you first, then we can attack the cancer later with a healthier body"
I heard from a doctor that took care of my mother, he didn't want to give her false hope by trying something that didn't have statistics behind it. Then again, our drug industry calculates in a 30% placebo response when formulating a new drug. If the observation of and act of kindness gives hope and empowerment then why do we deny it to the most deserving people when they need it most?
Just with the open ears, the acknowledging voice and the comforting words of Dr Keith Block ( The Block Center ), I saw a change in color, posture and facial grimace over the course of 90 minutes with both Kathy and her husband as I came to support them during what was unfortunately her last consult. Turns out the most powerful treatment over the last 6 months came in the gentle words and hands of a compassionate healer.
We'll miss you Kathy and I will keep my promise.