My best friend’s father was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that starts in the bile duct. It is the kind of cancer that moves quickly and is everywhere by the time you notice anything is wrong. The kind of cancer that still inflicts the truest meaning of that word: that it is to be feared because there is nothing to be done and it will be over quickly.
It has been my good fortune in life to have a good understanding of the human body, many of the diseases that affect it, and many of the treatments that help. For this reason, I am often contacted by friends or family when there is a nascent medical situation. Being able to explain things to people so that they understand what is happening is the very best thing I am able to do for others. I am grateful everyday that I can help with this when needed.
Priscilla and I were talking today about palliative care. We talked about managing anxiety and pain. I told her that at the end, they would make sure he is comfortable. “It is the very last kindness of medicine,” I told her. This is the best kind of medicine, the kind that is all about people and helping them and those who love them when their bodies fail. Medicine can do a lot. But it can’t do everything.
The fact that I can live alone and work and travel is a huge testament to the fact that medicine can do a lot. I would be dead or housebound without it. Even still, the toll taken on your body and your life by chronic illness is enormous. The toll it takes on the lives of others can also be significant.
I live close to my parents. They both help care for me every day. They feed Astoria and let her run around in their yard if I’m too sick. They make sure I’m awake to take my meds and make it to work. They take me to appointments and procedures. They sit with me for days after surgery. They drive me places. They pick up my meds. They still talk to me when I’m an asshole. You know. Parent things, for those of us who are lucky enough to have good parents.
But I am 33 years old. I should be independent in every way. And I’m not and I will never be. Every day, I am reminded of the fact that I require an extensive network of generous and caring people to effect my life, none sacrificing more than my parents.
After years of my failing health, my mom recently had to take FMLA leave to help take care of me and get me to my many procedures and appointments. The amount of time and energy she has to expend taking care of me is staggering. It is both humbling and sad. My parents are getting older. I should be taking care of them at this point in our lives. And I just can’t and I’m probably never going to be able to and some days, that is really, really hard. I worry a lot that the stress of caring for me will harm them.
Medicine has gifted me with many kindnesses. I just wish it could gift those kindnesses to those who love us and care for us, too.
Please send good energy/pray/send Reiki/cross your fingers for my dear Priscilla, the Balderas and Martinez families, and of course, her father.