Friday, March 15, 2013

There's No Place Like Hope

At about the same time that my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, one of his best friends was also diagnosed with cancer.  His friend had to go through surgery and chemo during the same weeks that Dad did.  That friend was so sick that he couldn't attend Dad's memorial service after Dad died.  And that friend has been battling his disease ever since, dealing with more surgeries, more chemo, more complications, more pain.

I know it must have been so hard for his friend to miss the memorial; I'm sure it must have been really tough for him to assimilate what had happened to my dad over a relatively short amount of time, during which my dad and his friend did not have contact with each other because they were both so sick.  My dad, in fact, was never told of his friend's illness; Dad was having such trouble grasping the facts of and coping with his own diagnosis, and, as I've mentioned before in regards to my grandmother's declining health, we felt that it would have been unbearable for him to hear about serious issues befalling someone he loved, especially when he was powerless to help that person.

My dad and his best friend Bob, many years ago, just before the Boston Marathon

Recently, I emailed my dad's friend to let him know that I have been thinking about him.  In his response, he said something that gave me pause: he said, "I have a chance, and I guess that's all you can really ask for in this life."

I think he's right; as long as a person has a chance, as long as they have hope, they can look forward to something better, and sometimes that's all a person needs to keep going.  

The dictionary says that hope means "to expect with confidence."  I think there's more to it than that, though.  I think hope is somehow genetically woven into our beings so that we can survive, even through the roughest of times. We are fueled and inspired by stories that bring us hope: hope and trust in mankind, hope that other people will help us when we need help, hope that tomorrow will be a better day.  We say that it gives us hope to hear about others who have succeeded or who have had something good happen to them - and we are so intrigued and motivated by the exchange of hope that there is even a website called Gives Me Hope where people can submit their thoughts about things that have happened that inspire them to hope and that allow them to believe in the potential.

For a long time after my dad died, I felt foolish when I thought back to the way we were so hopeful that he would beat the odds.  I felt like I'd somehow been tricked or that I'd misinterpreted the information in such a major way that I could never again trust that what I was seeing real or true.  Looking back at my Facebook posts from during the time when Dad was sick and seeing things I'd said like "starting to feel at least a little hopeful," I felt ashamed at the way I'd stepped out of character and had let my emotions overrule my logic.  I felt like the hope that I had clung to during Dad's illness had been unfounded, irrational, desperate, even ridiculous, but, over the course of the last couple of years, the words of my dad's friend and a few other things that have happened have caused me to start thinking of hope in a totally different way.

While my dad was sick and in the months that followed his death, I was active on a couple of websites for brain cancer survivors and their families.  I posted and commented and read the posts and comments by others about various treatments for GBM and other types of brain cancers, and through that forum I made contact with some people who had outlasted the prognosis of their disease, a few of whom had been diagnosed with GBM and had not only made it past the predicted two-year "maximum" survival time but for years or even decades longer.  While my dad was sick, I was desperate to find out what these people's secret to survival was so that I could find a way to try to make that same set of circumstances happen for Dad.  After he died, I still felt a need to know: What had these people done that we hadn't?  How had they made it, when Dad couldn't?  I'm still signed up on one of those chat boards, Cancer Compass; I don't post anymore, but I always read the new comments about long-term survival of GBM.  It might seem like I would see that as a point of sadness, or frustration, or injustice, but for me it serves more as a point of scientific curiosity - and of hope.  

In the summer after my dad died, a friend of mine who had been combatting cancer found out that her cancer had relapsed again and that she needed radiation treatment.  I offered to drive her to some of her radiation appointments.  The hospital where she had to go daily for several weeks was about a 45-minute drive from her house, and she and I commented several times during those weeks and afterwards that we had enjoyed having that time to talk to each other on the way to and from the appointments.  

I admired this friend a lot; I had always thought that she was full of great advice and, since she'd been diagnosed with cancer about five years before, of tenacity and true grit.  She was one of those people who is so easy to talk to, a great listener, someone whom I'd always felt like I wish I'd had more time with so I could get to know better.  On one of our commutes that summer, she and I had a conversation about how we both had a hard time asking for and accepting help from others.  I commented that I was much better at giving help than at receiving it, and my friend thought for a minute and then said, "I guess in a way it's helpful to let someone help you, if you think about it," words on which I would end up reflecting back countless times since then and that later inspired a perspective shift and this post about my perspective about gratitude, blessings, and philanthropy: A Gift Received.

In another conversation during one of our drives, I asked her and she told me about the timeline of her illness.  She filled me in on details that I hadn't known from along the way, including the fact that when she was first diagnosed she had been told that her cancer wasn't curable.  "How do you deal with that?" I asked her, and she responded in a voice that conveyed unlimited courage and conviction, "You just do.  For me, I just keep hoping and believing that if I can stick around long enough, somebody will find a cure. I am fighting to stay alive not because I fear death, but because I love life.  I am thankful for every day that I have in this life, but at the same time I want more, and I hope that that's what I will be given."  

Through those words and through the words of my dad's friend and those of other long-term survivors, I've started thinking of hope as good, necessary, supportive, even power-inducing; I guess my perspective about hope had changed so much that, despite what actually happened with my dad, I now don't regret carrying that hope.  I now deeply believe that there’s no such thing as false hope: I think that all hope is valid, even for people who have been given an awful prognosis like we were, even when hope would no longer appear to be sensible.  Because as far as I'm concerned, sensibility went out the window the second we heard that my dad had brain cancer. 

"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge - myth is more potent than history - dreams are more powerful than facts - hope always triumphs over experience - laughter is the cure for grief - love is stronger than death." ~Robert Fulghum

No comments:

Post a Comment