There is a saying, “don’t get your hopes up and you won’t be disappointed.” Our hope in cancer care is for everything to work out as planned and with a beneficial outcome. Unfortunately, that’s not always how life goes.
Anyone can tell you there are countless disappointments on the cancer journey. They range from the initial diagnosis (I would say devastation, a form of disappointment) and extend too many hurdles during treatment. As an oncology nurse, I worked with patients who were admitted to the hospital for numerous reasons: an unexpected fever due to infection, needed better pain control, or needed emergency surgery— to name a few. Of course, they didn’t plan on being in the hospital. It was a disappointment they had to adapt to, another curve on the cancer journey. But cancer is like that. It can cause our lives to change drastically from one minute to the next. Is there anything that can be learned from these disappointing times? A positive trait I saw when my patients were dealing with their disappointments was the trait of flexibility. Even though it wasn’t the plan they had in mind or wanted, I saw them make the best of the situation. They would sometimes laugh at the irony of being in the hospital, enjoy time with family and friends that visited, or not think about it and live in the present. Even though the disappointment stung, they offset it with an incredible sense of adaptability and flexibility. They accepted this new turn in the road.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a gripping pain on the left side of my back and felt as if I couldn’t take a deep breath. Is someone stabbing me with a knife? Earlier that day, I’d had a Port-a-Cath (a device for IV access) surgically implanted into my chest. As a nurse, I was very comfortable with Ports having taken care of patients who had them. Now that there was one inside of me, I wasn’t so comfortable.
I meandered down the stairs and sat in a wicker chair near the sliding glass door feeling afraid. I pondered why this was happening to me, another disappointment/set-back on the cancer journey. This wasn’t part of my plan. Disappointments can make us feel afraid and make us question where the road is taking us. There are many curves on the cancer journey. Part of dealing with life on this road is to absorb the shocks with flexibility.
Morning came and I headed to the hospital for a chest x-ray after talking to my surgeon. I learned that I had a pneumothorax (an air leak into the pleural space that surrounds the lung). Thankfully, it was small and would resolve on its own. I actually chuckled and remembered patients I’d cared for who had a pneumothorax. Now I understood what they had felt.
Instead of looking at disappointments as “setting us back” maybe we should try to view them as an obstacle with a guidepost or sign pointing in another direction. We don’t always know why the signs take us on a different road than our dreams or plans. We may never know, however as we accept this detour or new path we might find surprises that can lead us to bigger things than we would have become.