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.