The first time we met the doctor who would save my mother’s life, he was surrounded by people. Nurses, residents, and fellows clustered about. He came into the exam room where my mother and I sat waiting, scared. The little room quickly became crowded with people, all of whom had to do lists, other patients, other obligations. Dr. H, however, had all the time for my mother. So much of her cancer diagnosis—her third in five years—was unknown to us and we were seeking answers.
Dr. H sat down in a chair across from my mother, at her eye level, and for the first time, gave us those answers. The news he shared about my mother’s illness was terrifying, and I remember crying in that very crowded room, in front of all of those people. For the first time, perhaps, I understood that we had, more than before, a battle ahead of us. But, we needed to hear the truth, as much truth as the doctors knew, for if my mother was to get better, we needed to be ready.
In that exam room, Dr. H’s eyes never left my mother. His voice was calm and sure. From that day through the weeks she spent in the hospital, and to what became seven months of almost daily management of my mother’s care, Dr. H kept his eyes on my wonderful, loving mother, staying committed to her health and recovery, as if he was a member of our family.
At the end of that first visit, after she had agreed to be admitted for more tests, and perhaps even surgery, he paused to talk to her as a person—not just a patient. He asked about her worries; he offered his condolences on my father’s death ten years earlier, also from cancer, a loss we carry with us each day; and he acknowledged that he knew that the next few days and weeks would be hard but that he’d be there with her. From that very first meeting, he showed my mother how medicine and compassion can—and must—be partners in the healing process. And, perhaps most importantly, he helped us to be hopeful.
Now, two years later, when my mother talks about Dr. H, she doesn’t immediately emphasize his amazing surgical skills, how determined he was to help her get better, or how he (truly) saved her life. Instead, she will first tell you how he moved heaven and earth to get her to my brother’s wedding just weeks after he performed two extensive surgeries on her. He had told her she would dance at the wedding, and she was skeptical, giving up even at one point, but he didn’t let her worry and fear win out. She made it to what was an incredibly special day for our family (that’s us below). She even danced. But, for me, and for all of us, what mattered more was when my mom started smiling again, talking about tomorrow and the next day, having faith in the possibility of the future again. For that, we are forever grateful to Dr. H.
May 22, 2013 is the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday and they are determined to finish the fight against cancer. The 100 Caregiver Stories series is a blogger parallel to ACS’s 100 Days/100 Stories series, which features researchers and volunteers who are taking action to help ACS finish the fight against cancer. ACS wants to shine a light on 100 amazing caregivers by the end of 2013; sign up here if you want to share a blog post. No financial compensation was received to publish this post.