Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meant To Meet

I’ve had people tell me more and more lately that maybe they were meant to meet me.

Once was last July at the sentencing of Dr. Farid Fata, the Michigan oncologist now in federal prison after diagnosing and treating people who never had cancer or would never benefit from it, all so he could line his pockets.

One former patient at the proceedings tearfully told me how she was struggling to accept what this doctor had done and how guilty she felt letting it happen to her. I told her my story, how even my father, a doctor, and I, an extremely well versed and vigilant caregiver, were duped. That gave her something, a modicum of peace that she was not to blame. It was what she needed to hear. She said maybe I was why she had come this day, to meet me, to hear this.

It happened again last night. I was at the mall to fix my broken phone and a woman with two teen daughters was sitting next to me. The help desk was crowded. She’d been waiting over an hour already. So we began to chat.

Somehow I learned her father was in the hospital. I realized it might be too personal but I asked gently if he was having surgery or something was more serious? He has cancer. Lung cancer. Stage four. It’s gone to his brain. They discovered it when he went to his doctor for some dizzy spells.

I told her I was sorry. I told her I understood. She asked about my story, which is not easy to share in few sentences, so I did my best to tell her what would help her. I told her about my father’s cancer, my father’s overtreatment by Dr. Fata, my mother’s unrelated but simultaneous health issues that kept me running between them and their hospitalizations and appointments for about three years.

She seemed to want to soak up what I said. She related. Her mother has health issues and she’s now worried about her. She said they are transferring her father to a better hospital, that he’s already starting radiation to see if they can shrink the tumors in his brain. It sounded grim.

And then our names came up for service and we sat beside each other, our banter now about technology.

When she was ready to go, she thanked me and said: “I think I was supposed to meet you.”

Before she left, maybe because she said that to me, I wanted to offer her a few things I learned, and wish I’d known sooner, about caring for your parents, dealing with terminal illnesses, responding to those we love with love when they are sick.

I said be there for your father and don’t assume aggressive chemo is the answer if he’s so sick and not for sure getting better. I said stage four is terminal, not to be negative but it’s something you need to know. I said to look into palliative care early, and that may entail the scary word hospice, but try not to let it scare you. 

She understood, she said. Let him live with what strength he has, not with poisons pumping into his body if all he has is a certain amount of time. Yes.

Be kind and loving, I told her. She said he’s been a bit mean, mostly to her mom. I said don’t take it personally. Never take it personally. He’s angry at himself, his body, his weakness. And he’s scared. And he is taking it out on those closest to him. Find peace knowing it’s not about you.

Be his advocate, go to his appointments, I said. He needs someone who can think straight because he won’t be able to. 

And live very presently. In the moment. Because the moments will soon be gone, for all of us someday. Just be there for him and with him. Be his daughter. He'll need his daughter.

And I offered her something I learned recently from a man whose wife had stage four breast cancer. Their fear of the future could overwhelm them but their wise doctor would say: “No one is dying today.” I loved that. I told her to remember that. And why it’s important to live one day at a time.

Her eyes welled up with tears and I wondered, did I say too much? But I knew I told her these hard truths in kindness and she'd listened. She hugged me as she left and I wished her luck.

I don’t know if I was there for her to meet me. I’m not sure I believe in that.

What I do believe is that most people around us are connections just waiting to happen. I talk to others and they open up to me. Maybe because I’m kind. Maybe because I’m compassionate. Maybe because I like to connect. This happens to me often.

I think we are all just a few words or questions away from connecting and learning from each other in ways that can make life a little easier, a little more bearable.

I hope I helped this woman, whose name I never got. 

Was I meant to be there for her? Maybe I'm the one who needed to meet her.

I don’t know. But I’m thankful we connected.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Acting: It Ain't for Sissies

I saw an article today in the Atlantic about how people are using improv to counter anxiety. It stirred up my memories of my experience.

Some years back I saw a listing for an intro to acting class at the local community house. I wanted so badly to sign up but was too afraid. I finally made myself call the last day before the class started. Of course I was hoping it was full and I could tell myself: Well, I tried. But there was space. Dammit. I signed up and attended with equal parts dread and excitement.

It was not a comedy class but we did do a number or improv type exercises. I loved them. You had to think on your feet and use your whole self in the moment to respond to directions from the teacher: Riding on a bus, you're freezing cold, then you're sweltering hot. Another: you had to perform a routine task with the class having to be able to tell what it was (I took vegetables from the fridge and made a salad, chopping away very convincingly, I was told, I am sure because I allowed myself to get lost in the moment). 

We did characters, like a Bronx New Yorker in an act from a Shakespeare play. We each did a monologue at the end. It was terrifying but I made myself do it. I was so nervous for mine I got choked up as I did my lines, though cannot now recall what it was from. It helped with realness even though it was unintended. One woman would get a martini before class. I never did that. I didn't want to use that crutch though I kind of wanted to.

Read the story here, how improv can help reduce anxiety:


Thursday, January 8, 2015

This is What Terrorism Does

Terrorism wins when it makes us afraid. Afraid to travel, afraid to speak, afraid to live our lives. That is what terrorism does.

Sometimes it wins.

I was sitting in the interior waiting room of my doctor's office yesterday after hearing the news of the attack on the Paris office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. There was no doubt  it was an act of terror, a reaction to the publication's cartoons lampooning Islamist extremists.

As I waited for my eyes to be dilated fully, I scrolled through the news and posts about the attack on my phone, shaking my head in disgust as my vision increasingly blurred.

The room was filled with other patients of various ages, shapes and sizes waiting, like me, to see their doctors. The Ellen show was on a TV in the corner. Some of us shared a laugh or two though none of us related to each other directly.

I watched as a gray-haired couple was called away only to be replaced by an almost identical-looking gray-haired couple. Then they were called away.

I had a long wait. Time to people-watch. Time to think.

A single man took one of their seats to the left of the TV. And then another man breezed in, middle aged, maybe 60, and sat beside the TV. He was carrying a gift bag with some festive ribbons on it. Was it for Christmas? New Year's? Was it for him, for someone else?

I wondered why he was carrying that bag, so many days after the holidays, as it looked more like a holiday gift than any other occasion. But who knew.

Then he was quickly called into a room and left the bag where he'd put it by his feet moments earlier.

I couldn't help but wonder why he left it. It seemed very intentional. I know these rooms well in this doctor's office. They are not cramped. There is plenty of space.

I heard his name. I saw what he looked like. I had no idea what his background might be. Still, my thoughts persisted: Who leaves a bag like that behind?

I didn't like it. And the more I stared at that bag, and in the wake of the attack that morning, my mind turned to bad thoughts.

I started having fantasies of a bomb going off. Why, though? But terror often is random. It could be about losing a job. Religion. Whatever.

I stared at the bag and thought if it exploded, would we all be killed? Maimed? Would it blow out the side of the building? I turned my face — just in case. I wanted to go to the desk and tell someone that this bag was unattended.

I looked at the older woman in the wheelchair facing the bag. And the man on his phone a chair away. And the woman next to me whom I'd exchanged a smile with in the first waiting room.

Why would anyone want to harm us? Kill us?

I was a little embarrassed at myself for having these "crazy" thoughts. I was irritated at the man for leaving the bag. And I could not stop thinking bad thoughts because these things happen when you least expect them. That is how it typically works.

And then the man returned, whisked up his bag, and left.

I was relieved but also troubled. Not that those thoughts crossed my mind at all. I suppose that is somewhat normal these days.

But I was troubled that I thought so much about that bag, wasting my energy worried about something bad happening when it was so unlikely.

I could have closed my eyes and been peaceful. Meditated. Read my book. 

Instead I filled my mind with horror.

A pretty little gift bag. Probably meant to bring someone joy.

And that is what terrorism does.