From time to time, we will be posting guest commentaries by patients who have become part of our compassionate care community. Our first post is by Nila Webster, a licensed massage therapist and children’s book author who was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer last summer. Below is her story about the impact that compassionate care has had on her life and health. The following excerpt and illustration by George Ulrich are from her children’s book, The Gift of You, The Gift of Me.
Thank you for life
And life again
For the seed of hope
Born of each sad end
The Healing Patient-Caregiver Relationship
Most cancer patients remember vividly the moment of their diagnosis, and this is true for me as well. Yet even in the frenetic surroundings of the emergency room, I felt a surge of interior calm when I met the oncologist on call. His gift was not only his medical knowledge, but also his sense of humanity. He took a difficult moment, and he offered solidarity and hope.
In the year since my diagnosis, I have met many caring nurses and doctors whose acts of kindness have fortified me. I truly believe, as Ken Schwartz did, that a caregiver’s humanity can be more healing than high-dose radiation and chemotherapy.
My first year was one of many meaningful encounters. There was the anesthesiologist whose words “You are really motivated” became a central part of my treatment plan. On difficult days, his words would resound in my mind, encouraging me to move forward. There was the young radiologist who performed by first lung tap, and who later, pro bono, offered to review scans with me on a high resolution monitor because he saw how important this was to the mind-body approach I was taking. There was the pre-op nurse who said with a conviction that went right through me, “Picture your lung re-expanding during your surgical procedure.” When my lung did fully expand, I knew the nurse’s words were part of that recovery.
And too, there was also the surgeon who observed that my tumor had shrunk even before I had started chemotherapy. I was so surprised by this news, and so happy, that I said, almost to myself, “I’ve been talking to the tumor, asking it to get smaller.” Even though this was a direct expression of my belief that meditation is a pathway to good health, I realized how strange my words might sound. Yet the surgeon’s response captured the essence of the patient-doctor relationship. He said, “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing something right. We need to learn from you.”
Of all the statements made to me during that first year, this remains the most profound. When doctors are open to their patients, the power dynamic shifts to one where both parties acknowledge the wisdom of the other. There is room for true partnership, no matter where the diagnosis might lead. The surgeon’s words have come back to me during this past year, reminding me that far from being a passive bystander, I am an integral part of the treatment plan and all the healing that flows from it.
I have a wish for all of the caregivers whose tireless efforts make a difference in the lives of their patients. My wish is that they take the time to replenish and restore themselves, to experience the relaxation response documented by Dr. Herbert Benson and cardiac coherence (the synchronization of the rhythm of breathing to the rhythm of the heart) advanced by Dr. David Servan-Schrieber, and to find an oasis of serenity. May this time be that of pure healing, that as they fortify others, they too are fortified.