To Care is to be Human

August 28, 2016

walking through the bogThe doctor with his crisp white coat buttoned in the middle, enough to show off the 200-dollar silk tie his wife bought him, sits just on the edge of the finely polished mahogany desk to be a bit closer to Jane in a gesture of concern. "Don't worry, the test results show some activity in the spine, we might have a bit of those buggers growing in the brain too but do not worry, I made an appointment for you to meet my colleague in the radiation department. He will zap those buggers with a few rads and he will smoke them out there."

He says it like it is run of the mill, an everyday occurrence and for him it probably is but not for Jane. As scared as Jane might be his emotionless demeanor makes her think this is just fine. She tends to feel 'this guy cares about me' and he wouldn't do anything that wasn't good. So she tells him she's a bit scared and he pats her on the shoulder, reaches for his pad, pulls out his gold pen, and writes out a script for some 'feel good' meds he says. "Take these and you won't think about those rads." I will make a note to my colleague to be sure to have you zonked a bit before you go in so you won't care at all, it's good because he doesn't want you moving, he can hit those buggers better." He makes this zappy noise and points with his finger as if he is shooting something. He smiles, pats her on the shoulder and says, "see you afterward and we can start a nice cocktail for you."

Jane gets up heads for the door. "thank you, doctor." "Sure no problem." He makes that shooting finger gesture and laughs. It eases her nerves. She stops at the reception desk and gets the appointment card for her rads and then heads to the pharmacy for those meds.

The doctor's cell phone rings, he reaches into his pocket and pulls it out. He sees the number and hits the screen. "Bob, what's up? Yeah, one of my front desk gals made the appointment. Pause. There are about three buggers around L-4 and L-3, the brain has several, looks like 4 could be 5. Two in the brain are big, and going to start giving her some cognitive problems, don't expect you to knock them out, just give her some time. I gave her a script to calm her down, you can give her what you think might make her feel good. Pause. Right, glad you got the pics, see that one in the brain near the optic nerve, yeah that's going to be a bugger as it gets bigger, think you can smoke that one a bit? Pause. Yeah, that's what I thought. She's got maybe a few months tops. Her liver is near caput. We gave her just about everything and fried that thing but gotta do what we gotta do, right? Pause, he laughs. Yep, you shrink what you can, and we will dose her up again, then I'll turn her over to hospice. Pause. Figure giving her one last hit of chemo cocktail will give her some thought of hope, it's almost Christmas, what am I going to do, ruin her Christmas? Pause. I figure hospice after New Year's, we could be lucky and the chemo cocktail could give her freedom for Christmas. Pause. Yeah, it sucks for the family, can't fix that. Pause. He laughs again. Are you going to Pete's Christmas bash? Pause. Have Sally call my wife she wants a new dress for the occasion, she feels fat being prego again, they can go make an afternoon of it. Our nanny is baking cookies tomorrow, bring the kids and let them all have a ball. Pause. Great I will tell Judy that Sally will drop the kids by tomorrow. Pause. Okay, talk later."

Jane is 30 years old and was diagnosed with breast cancer after her second child two years ago. She has a little girl six years old and a son 28 months. Her husband is a math teacher at the local high school. They met each other in college, where they both were studying education. They were married in their last year of college and decided to move north where they could see the seasons, something they both wanted to experience, and have their kids see snow. Jane gained her degree and taught art in the same school until she had her second baby and decided to stay home for a few years. Now she is glad to have taken that break, her lack of energy could never handle work, kids, and cancer.

Thanksgiving just passed, and Jane's family called her to tell her they were all coming up for Christmas. "We want to see what all the excitement is about snow." For the past six years, they have always flown to South Texas for Christmas, this was a surprising but welcome announcement. The truth was, Jane's father was very worried about how his daughter looked on a recent video call. His daughter said she was doing fine but he knew his daughter and that look bothered him. He called her in-laws and asked if they might go with them too. Everyone had agreed it would help Jane a lot to have people around for the holidays and give her some needed good cheer.

The first week of December brought Jane into the radiology department. She had taken her meds and felt quite at ease through the procedure. "See you tomorrow Jane. Only four more days and you're done." The radiologist patted her on the head. "Have you been to see your Onco?" he said brushing his hands. "Yes, he called me in and said he wanted to start the cocktail while I had the radiation. Thought it would be better." Jane turned to him. "why?" The doctor laughed, "thought so when I patted your head I got some hair in my hands. A sure sign." He laughed again. Jane looked a bit worried, "sorry, it has started to fall out after the second dose." He put his hand on hers, "Don't worry, hazards of the trade."

Jane finished her radiation treatments on the 14th of December. Her doctor scheduled her for a scan the next week. She was extremely tired and the chemo cocktail was taking a huge toll on her as well. She was worried about her parents and her husband's parents coming on the 18th. Only four days away and she was so exhausted she could hardly move. "How am I going to be ready for them?" She asked her husband. "Not to worry, I asked for some time off early and they got a substitute to fill in. I will be going back till after the holidays. You will be feeling better by then." Jane felt so relieved.

Her appointment for her scan was moved up. "They got a cancellation." Jane told her husband, "I won't have to wait." He drove her to the scan and then over to see her oncologist. They were greeted and he sat on the edge of his finely polished desk, moving a stack of Christmas cards and folders out of his way. "They sent me over the results a few minutes ago. Those rads zapped a number of those buggers just like I had hoped. But some of them are stubborn." He watched as Jane and her husband looked at each other. "I was hoping that cocktail would have done the trick too but think after Christmas we need to sit down and discuss our next plan of action. What do you say?" Jane looked up at him but saw that quirky smile of his and felt at ease. If the doctor didn't look so worried maybe she shouldn't either. Jane's husband asked the doctor, "So you expected this outcome?" "You bet." Said the doctor, "I see cancer cases like this day in and day out, nothing surprises me anymore." With that, he stood up. Jane's husband took that as a sign things were right on schedule. But what schedule was that? Jane and her husband stopped by the reception desk, got an appointment card and Jane with the help of her husband made it to the car.

The doctor pulled his phone out of his pocket and hit the screen. It dialed a number logged on his phone. "Yeah Barb, what're the results on Jane?" It was Barbara from the lab. "Not good John not good. Enzymes out of the park. The liver is failing." Silence on both ends. "Yeah I thought so, just saw her, her eyes were a bit yellow, but her husband hasn't noticed. Noticed her ankles were retaining fluid. Shit." Barbara chimed in, "John we do what we can do. That's it. You know it. Hard when it's the holidays." "Yeah, it is but after this many years, you just get hardened to it. Got to."

Jane went straight to bed when she got home. Her husband took the kids out to play in the snow. He bathed them and made Mac and Cheese with ham for dinner. He sat them in front of the television with apple wedges to watch their favorite video, Frosty the Snowman. He went up to check on Jane. She had been asleep for hours. She stirred but did not wake. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. The kids were arguing and he heads down to see what the noise was all about. He sat with them on the sofa reading one book, then another, the baby fell asleep in his arms, and his daughter snuggled against him to hear the end of the book. She fell asleep and he did too.

It was in the early morning hours of December 16th. He woke up and wiggled out of the sleeping arms and legs of his precious children. He covered them and headed up to check on Jane. He tiptoed in and leaned over her. "Jane, do you need anything? How are you feeling?" He did not hear even a stir. He leaned down, "this is your prince awakening sleeping beauty." He used to always wake her this way when she missed her alarm. He leaned in to give his prince kiss. He jumped back. Switched the light on. He started to scream. Jane had passed away.

The phone seemed to ring louder than ever, Jane's father looked at the clock, 1 am; he reached the phone. There was only sobbing. "I can't hear you." He said. His wife was sitting up and grabbed the phone. "Don't come, don't come, we will be there for Christmas. Oh, my God, she is gone, what am I going to do?" Sobbing at both ends.

"Doctor?" The office door opened a crack. "Yes?" He had just stepped into his office before running out to meet his wife and kids to see a Christmas play and concert at the school. "Sorry to disturb you. I know you are in a hurry, just wanted to let you know Jane died last night." He looked up and shook his head. "thought she would have made it to Christmas. Too bad." "Yes, her husband called us to tell you this morning. Really sad, she was such a sweet lady." "Yes she was, but they are all sweet people aren't they?" He shook his head, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. "Call me if there is an emergency." He left.

Jane was a mother, a daughter a wife; she was the world to those around her. To her doctor she was someone who he treated perfunctory, he knew the outcome and went through the motions. Tomorrow someone new will enter his office and he will begin the process again. They don't question nor do they get personal, it is work to them; there can be no emotion, there can only be steps and in the end, the steps stop; Jane's steps stopped. Caring means you're human, and humans have emotions. The Cancer Industry to which doctors belong dictates no emotion, no human feelings or you cannot be a part. They know what they are doing and now – you know.

For Jane's family, there is emotion, it was a real experience that no one seems to notice. Do you?

If caring and true compassion returned to cancer care, doctors would see patients as real people with lives and family; a struggle to find answers and to stop the disease would occur. But until then, Big Pharma and the FDA will continue keeping doctors treating step by step until they die, nothing will change. You could walk away from what we know is not working, what contains no compassion or emotion, only money, only blank stares, rads, and chemo cocktails to a world where there are caring people trying to make a difference and cure what is said to be incurable. This is an alternate world of medicine and science; with no corporations dictating outcomes, where results happen and people overcome cancer. Someone said, "Believe in life, hope is alive." She died of chemo cocktails and too many rads. She hated those flip words for what caused suffering and death. She discovered the truth and set to let the world know. The dialogues of the doctors are from real conversations heard, the story may be fiction but the attitude and words are real. Jesicha founded Jesicha's Hope to let people know the truth, for people to see the stark dark truth that surrounds treating cancer as a business. Jane and her family represent the average family caught in the web of a cancer diagnosis. Jesicha was a daughter, sister, and aunt to the most wonderful caring people I know. I know because I am her mother.

It is time to stop and begin caring and be human.

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updated January 2023 

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