Monday, my brothers and I had a meeting with my Dad's oncologist. I like our Doc. I like him a lot. It wasn't an easy conversation. The reality is sobering to say the least, and yet Dr. W. handled the situation with grace and empathy. I listened to him gently explain the prognosis and patiently explain the oft times confusing diagnosis. He is my age...37 years young, and is dedicating his career, his life really, to this most hideous disease. I have great respect for him and really can't adequately articulate how much I appreciate his bedside manner, his professionalism and personal attention to us in the most difficult of circumstances.
Fast forward to Friday night where I attended a 70th birthday party in honor of my father in law. There I was approached by a friend of my father in law, a man I know of, but don't know well. He too is a doctor. He inquired as to how my dad was doing. It took me back as I'm not certain that he has ever met my dad. I gave a short answer, assuming that he was inquiring out of concern for Tony and I.
"So," he said, "how long is it going to take? When is he going to die?"
I think I was in such shock at the boldness of his inquiry, that I fumbled around for an answer. And then I walked away in utter disbelief.
Not that my dad's condition is any of his business, but if he was going to ask about him, he should have tried to have some tact or at the very least, some respect for what Tony and I, not to mention my dad, are going through.
The more I think about it, the angrier I get. Angry that he would be so brazen, so arrogant, so obtuse. But more angry at myself that I couldn't come up with a wise comeback to put him in his place. Something like "Gee, my crystal ball seems to be broken today" or better still, "I don't know, when do you think you'll die?"
I'd like to take this man on a walk through the infusion room at the cancer center. I would introduce him to the bald headed beauty who rocks her new baby while the noxious chemo drugs feed into her veins. I'd show him the young children receiving chemo, their faces puffy from steroids, their eyes glassy from pain meds and anti-nausea drugs. I'd point out to him the many faces and families affected by cancer, the stress so evident in their weary smiles.
And if he was really lucky, I may even introduce him to my dad. I'd show him how he smiles through the pain even with tears staining his cheeks. I'd let him watch my dad tease his nurses and cheer on other patients. I'd share stories of his bravery, of his positive attitude and tenacious will to keep fighting even though his once strong and vibrant body cannot outwit the errant cancer cells.
And finally, I would remind him that cancer does not discriminate and it could just as easily be him spending 8 hours every other week with an IV in his arm. I might tell him about all of the horrible side effects the chemo brings and how even his own body will betray him, of how at times he will wish for the relief that is death. But then again, I have more tact than that.