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“Don’t Hate Me, But I Can’t Be Sick Any Longer.”

“Don’t Hate Me, But I Can’t Be Sick Any Longer.”

By Dr. Christina Charbonneau for YourTango.com.

I will never forget a 35-year old woman who came to my office with right-sided breast cancer. In a relatively short period of time (less than six months) it had spread to her left breast. She was a single mom who had no support. She would always bring her two small children to my clinic for her annual exams. As usual, we would discuss not only her illness but also how much she wanted to live.

One day she came in to tell me that now the cancer had spread to her brain, lungs and bones. She told me she could do another round of chemotherapy and radiation and maybe prolong her life for another 1 to 2 months.

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However, she was facing the reality of the end of her fight, for now she was so tired and her hair had just grown back. I remember looking into her eyes as she said, “I am so sorry, Dr. Christina. I know you are going to get angry with me, but I just can’t do it. My children are so tired of seeing me bald and being so sick all the time with my vomiting and diarrhea.” Then she said, “Do not think of me as a coward. Do not hate me for not doing what the doctors want me to do.”

After knowing her all this time, for her to think I would get mad was beyond my comprehension. For she spoke to me that day about what she truly felt was in her best interest — and the best interests of her children. We all have choices to make. She wanted to do what was best for her and her family in that moment, even though it meant that she may not survive as long to be with them. I looked at her and told her that this was not my choice and that I would honor whatever she decided.

She said, “None of this medicine worked for me, Doc. My kids cannot remember me laughing or having fun. For that matter, they miss playing with my hair. I want so much to live, but I know I’m not living right now.” Then she asked, “Do you hate me?” I told her of course not. I said, “I’m here for whatever you decide.” We both had tears in our eyes. I decided to ask her what she needed from me. It was a simple answer. She just said, “I need you to say it’s okay.”

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We took some time to think of ideas for how her children could remember her. One of our ideas was for her to write letters to them about the hallmark times of their lives. Another idea was to make videos and digital recordings of her voice speaking to each child, so they would feel so special having their Mom talk to each one of them individually for the rest of their lives.

I told her that I lost my mom due to her cancer when I was young. As I got older, it meant so much to be able to hear her voice or see a picture of her. We thought more about my patient’s smell such as the perfume she wore most often and what else the children could remember, such as their favorite foods she would make for them and the songs they had sung together that meant so much to all of them.

I shared with her the one thing that was the hardest for me about my Mom: the sense of touch. I told my patient how I missed my mom’s hugs and the touch of her hand, so we tried to think up things for her children to feel safe— like perhaps a blanket with her smell.

We wrote all of this down for her, for she said her memory wasn’t as good as it used to be. We hugged with tears in our eyes and she told me thank you. We planned to see each other as though nothing was going to happen in four months, but we both knew that this was the last time I would see her.

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There comes a time in medicine when all options have been given to the patient. Once they have been informed of all of the facts, the choice of the patient’s course and care is now theirs, and their rights must be respected. The patient has the right to her or his own dignity, and we in the medical community must honor their wishes.

We always want to fight and win each battle. Even as a doctor who has practiced for so many years, it still pains me to know that I will not win every battle. Even more significantly though, I also know the importance of loving my patients as I do while losing them gracefully.

My thoughts go out to all those who have cancer, and my heart goes out to all the cancer survivors. We must not forget the families. Most of all, the children who must go on and live need to have the memories they can cherish of how great and courageous you are.

With much love and respect,
Dr. Christina

This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: Don’t Hate Me, But I Can’t Be Sick Any Longer..

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95 comments

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1:36PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

Wonderful article...to die in peace can be a gift to loved ones as well....I pray she had loved ones to trust her kids with....

11:17PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

What a heart breaking article. Unfortunately, it is one that is faced over and over again. It is truly understandable the feeling to not want to be sick any longer. I think it takes the ultimate strength to realize that the end is near and that no amount of treatment will help especially when children are involved.

Thanks for sharing this important message.

11:44AM PDT on Jun 1, 2014

I'm so very sorry for the loss of your mother. Cancer is a horrible thing, especially when we lose someone we love very much to it. :( :(

7:56PM PDT on May 30, 2014

ty for this important article. it's valuable information to realize what one is prepared to do to continue to live . . . and what one is not prepared to experience

4:36AM PDT on May 30, 2014

OMG! This story was both at once the most heart-wrenching & beautiful I have read. Life can just be so randomly cruel. Dr. Christina, you met your patient right where she was, & you connected at such an empathetic level & gave this woman the emotional support her heart & soul desperately needed! You also gave her the tools to leave lasting beautiful memories for her beloved children. So many Dr.'s are emotionally cut off from their patients because the empathy factor is NOT encouraged in their medical training, infact it is discouraged. She was able to leave this earth validated, supported & knowing she did everything she could to bring comfort & a lifetime of loving & lasting memories for her babies. Thank you! :)

1:03PM PDT on May 28, 2014

Thank you :)

6:03AM PDT on May 26, 2014

excellent article.

8:35PM PDT on May 25, 2014

Mauvette, I can see how you feel as you do, but I would think that no mom is better than sick mom. Sick mom would have great difficulty caring for the kids, but no mom would be replaced by foster mom, who could tend to caring for the kids.

8:32PM PDT on May 25, 2014

When my father was told he had to have dialysis, he reasoned that he was quite old already, had done everything he felt needed to be done, and did not feel the need to go through the hassle to extend his life. He chose to go toxic and die soon after.

When I was told that, I reasoned that I still had plenty to do, and that his choice was right for him, but not for me. Yes, it has forced me into a rather restrictive time management system. Yes, there are things I am not able to do that I could before. Yes, it's a hassle and a burden. But, also, yes, following the choice of my father is NOT an option worth considering for me.

11:43AM PDT on May 24, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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