Lessons from Joan-In Kindness, Courage and Humor

By Kingson, Eric R. | Aging Today, November/December 2005 | Go to article overview

Lessons from Joan-In Kindness, Courage and Humor


Kingson, Eric R., Aging Today


During Joan's treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, we got to know some people fairly well whose lives also had been touched by cancer. Advanced cancer is like a club-a club you do not want to join! Membership provides those with stage 4 cancer, and those who are close to them, with choices that most others do not have to face explicitly. It forces people to look deep into themselves and their relationships. The lucky ones-and they are many more than you would think-find the courage and humanity to live, laugh, cry and continue to develop as caring human beings. Some of them become friends you never wanted to meet-at least not this way.

Barry: There was Barry Kearns. Funny and irreverent, Barry's antics kept us laughing. The circular file was his solution to medical paperwork and bills unpaid. "What are they going to do, take my pump out? If I can get back to work, I'll pay back as much as I can. But until then, I'm not going to worry." Once, as Joan was receiving chemotherapy, we heard laughs and giggles. A nurse was placing an IV line into Barry's arm. "Oh, yes, I like the way you do it." Nurses walked by laughing. But there was also a very serious and comforting side to Barry. When Joan, terrified of the prospect of having a pump placed into her abdomen, first asked Barry about his, he helped allay her fears.

Hanna: Knowing Joan was having a difficult time with chemo, one day Hanna, a fellow Sloan-Kettering patient and then about 70 years old, marched into our room with a 32-ounce plastic soda bottle filled with tea-marijuana tea. "Can't tell you how I got this, but it's been helpful to me and thought you might want to try it." Her gift was appreciated, but Joan-having had a bad experience with marijuana in college-did not use it. Through chemo and other surgeries, Hanna has held her cancer at bay. Recently I learned that she is free of cancer.

Healthcare Providers: We came to recognize the commitment of many who provide healthcare to people with cancer as a form of courage. The phlebotomist who searches out veins, the nurse who helps address nausea, the chaplain who comforts family, the nurse's aides who get patients up and moving after surgery, the doctors and the nurses-each is challenged every day to not depersonalize and to remember that he or she is dealing with people with histories, skills and hopes. …

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