"How long have you been doing this?" he asked, eyes gleaming with admiration. I was unsure whether he was asking long I had been conducting patient interviews or how long I had been a medical student. I decided on the latter. "Two years," I replied with a confident smile accross my chin. "Well, you're very good!." "Thank you," I replied, almost a whisper.
In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. He entitled it "The Audacity of Hope." At the time, as a wide-eyed, innocent medical student who had just finished her third-year clerkships, I wondered if the medical profession had not only lost this audacity but, furthermore, if we discouraged our patients from “the audacity of hope.”
We came to the one place I knew you dreaded.
You see it is freaking rush hour up in here. Too many red blood cells and platelets and not enough neurotransmitters or oxygen, and what this means is I feel like the life and the person I want to be have been hijacked.
During the fall semester of my sophomore year in college, I suffered the loss of my grandma to lung cancer. I became wracked with guilt, anxiety and depression following the death of this essential member of my family. When I was informed of my grandma's terminal illness, I had joined a support group; in this group, I cried and yelled until I came to accept that my grandma would not live to see me graduate from college or medical school or witness any of the milestones I'd achieve in my life--a fact that was especially disheartening for me.
Hope has been the key to happiness in my life. Lows happen; troubled times are inevitable. But when I can hope that what hurts will be healed and difficulties will be overcome, I can be happy. Hope is something we can hold onto in difficult times and know, trite though it sounds, that the dawn follows even the darkest nights. I have also learned that hope sometimes arrives in different and unexpected packages.
During my sophomore year of college, I hit my personal low. I was drowning in depression and anxiety. Simply making it through the day was a feat in itself. I lacked purpose, and I even questioned my will to live. Hope seemed just beyond my grasp.
I stand squinting in the sun as the kids parade off the buses. Quickly, the campgrounds fill with smiling faces, colorful t-shirts and baseball caps. From afar, there seems to be no difference between this place and any other summer camp.
However, underneath many of the t-shirts are chemotherapy ports and surgical scars, below the hats are bald heads and behind the smiles are fears, memories and young lives impacted by cancer. Yet walking through the camp's rainbow-adorned gates, I lead the children into a world of hope. A place without needles, hospital beds, pain or isolation, a place where they can be free. Free of IV poles, free of worries, free of the stares of strangers, free of the word "cancer."
“You have glitter on your face,” my grandmother reminded me for the tenth time that afternoon. Though she was relatively early in the Alzheimer’s process, to us it seemed that she was losing something every single day, and today it appeared to be her short term memory.
Over the years I had come to dread this weekly chore and today, as always, it filled me with such sadness. Tuesdays, on my day off from work, I would drive to the nursing home to visit my mother. There were times when Mom would look at me with her crystal clear blue eyes and say, “Do you know when Beth is coming?” “I AM Beth,” I would exclaim, over and over again when Mom asked me the same question until finally, one day I answered, “Beth is coming to see you soon.” Mom’s face lit up and she smiled.
As time passed, she didn't ask for me at all.
Shortly after I graduated from high school and a few days after I turned eighteen on August 8, 1965, I entered the hospital for surgery. A chronic pain on the left side of my abdomen had intensified, making it impossible for me to leave my bed.
“You will get better,” the physician told my brother. My brother was younger than I am now when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I don’t think even he believed the doctor, or he wouldn’t have asked me to take care of everything.