There is always a lesson in our trials and tribulations if we take the time to seek it out among the carnage. For me, the greatest lesson I ever received came after years of living in a haze and functioning on auto-pilot. Daily life became the same routine as I settled into my comfort zone. Sure I wanted more, dreamt of more and wished for more, but actually having more required change I wasn’t about to leave my comfort zone for.
Then my comfort zone was obliterated with three words. You. Have. … I don’t speak the third word often. I refuse to take ownership of it. But that final word sunk my wants, dreams and wishes for the future because of the expectation attached to it. Under the fog of knowledge of my demise, I sought a purpose, a reason for why this happened. Not that I was under the belief that bad things couldn’t happen to me, I knew all to well they could. I learned that no one is immune from tragedy when I lost my father in a car accident when I was only 22. You never know if the words you speak to someone will be the last because life can be fragile. The only certainty is right now. But what was the lesson I was to gain from learning my life would be cut short in its prime? Would I be wise enough to understand the lecture? Would I be a good apprentice and grasp the teaching or would it all be lost on me?
The “lesson” began shortly after those dreadful words were spoken… you have. It began with a message from an unlikely source. A medical doctor took me aside after the news had been delivered and against his medical and scientific education implored me to have faith. He reminded me that miracles happen and without acquired enlightenment. He encouraged me to have “faith in the face of all things” even if it went against the medical establishment’s belief, statistics or test results.
Three months after diagnosis I was given the news that the one treatment that sought to cure me had failed and I would need to meet with the rest of my medical team to establish next steps. One particular physician, a specialist in her field, offered a very expensive treatment that she felt was the only thing that could extend my life by a few months. She had no studies, no statistics, no comforting anecdotal evidence just her belief that this was my only option. I was sent home with a binder full of side effects that included organ failure and death. When death is a risk of the treatment then what’s the point? How is the treatment considered a success? The most common effects of the treatment were described in sordid detail that reminisced of a Stephen King horror novel. My intuition told me to decline the treatment and go against the grain.
While everyone was walking north my instinct urged me to march south.
I remember her face when I told her my decision. Like a schoolyard bully, she yelled that I would die without the treatment, oblivious to her own inconsistencies of the treatment’s desired effect. As divine as she thought herself to be, she reiterated how anyone in Canada given my diagnosis came to her for treatment. I would be foolish to forbear her treatment or medical expertise when every other patient with my diagnosis had followed her advise as they should, because well, she knew best. When she realized her threats didn’t compel me to latch onto her legs begging for my life she called the other physicians in my team and told them they needed to persuade me to take the treatment. And although every other doctor did ask me why I had refused it, none ever attempted to convince me it was the right thing to do upon hearing my answer. The treatment was no better than the diagnosis I had been given. From the guaranteed to the “let’s hope it doesn’t happen” side effects, the treatment was, in fact, worse than the state I already found myself in. As I stated to each physician, I would rather die as I was if that was to be my fate than die a horrible death the binder described. And with that statement, each and every doctor dropped the conversation and never brought up the treatment again.
The specialist’s anger at my insolence and her inability to force me into her desired course of action came to a head the last day I ever saw her. Again she threatened I would die. Without treatment, I would succumb in weeks, maybe days, definitely not the months she promised. She told me she refused to give me “false hope”. As she put it, nothing could save me now, again unaware of her own contradiction. I angered at the words “false hope”. Hope is the desire for an outcome you feel is possible. Without hope, those given a seemingly impossible mountain to move give up. Without hope I would stop fighting and as such would accept my death and succumb. But why? Because she said so? Because statistically I’m supposed to? By this time I had read about and even met other “terminal” patients who against all odds and doctor’s orders were alive and well. Some had even beaten the unbeatable and without the risk of death by some crazy treatment. Why were their numbers not included in the statistics? Why were their stories not spoken to other patients fighting the same disease to offer hope when drugs and surgery had failed? Why wasn’t the very real, not false, hope given that there is a possibility of life extension or even survival regardless of how slim that possibility maybe? These people weren’t special. They were ordinary, everyday people. If something was possible for them then why couldn’t it be possible for anyone? And from the patients I had met that had survived, it was very clear they all shared one thing in common. They never lost hope. I left that doctor’s office that day and never returned even after countless calls and badgering from her office that I needed too. I also vowed from that moment that regardless of any of my care giver’s education or belief system if any ever lost hope, I would remove them from my treatment team.
The lesson came full circle four years after my diagnosis and three years after my predicted death. I was sitting at a naturopath clinic receiving an IV treatment when a lady sat down beside me. We had never met and since the IV treatment is used for a plethora of illnesses she had no idea what illness had brought me to the clinic and I never offered up the information even as we began to speak to each other. She told me how she had been fighting cancer as evidenced by her bald head. She said she was feeling better with the IV medicine and felt very grateful to be alive, especially after witnessing the recent death of her best friend to a devastating disease. Her friend, as she explained, had been diagnosed with an extremely rare, terminal ailment. Her friend, making decisions out of fear instead of logic or intuition, begged her medical team to give her the “biggest guns” she could buy for the battle. The treatment they offered her was incredibly expensive and just as dangerous. But without hope, her friend felt this was her only chance to steal some extra time. Speaking cautiously as if to relive the entire episode, the lady explained that the treatment turned out to be far worse than the disease her friend was battling and unfortunately her friend died a horrible death from the treatment a mere two months after it began. As you’ve probably already guessed her friend had the same illness as I and had taken the treatment I had refused. I felt the blood drain from my face and my heart begin to pound loudly in my chest. Unbeknownst to her, this stranger had just described my probable fate had I followed through with that treatment all those years ago. Yet here I was. Still fighting for my life but alive nonetheless. It was as though God himself had sat beside me in that chair that day to tell me this story and to remind me to continue to stay true to myself even if it meant my path was in direct opposition to the masses. I knew in that moment that as long as I had faith, there would always be hope.
There are times where my mind drifts to the dark side but I reel it back in and remind myself that the most important weapon I have in this war is my conviction that I will live. It is my belief that even though medical advances may not rise to the occasion my body was designed to rebuild, recover and reclaim its health. Look no further than a cut on your hand for the proof. And although the hope I have for my desired outcome may waiver at times, in faith I remind myself that I am still here and that has allowed me to want, dream and wish again.
~True North Nomad
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