I read an unusual poem recently that presented hope as a double-edged sword. The poet empathized with those who choose to surrender to the fight with cancer; yet their loved ones aren’t ready for them to quit. The poet implored: why must patients bear the burden of a “last hope” laid upon them by loved ones, while enduring ineffectual treatments?
Reading those words reminded me of a doctor I heard about during a visit to the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care atUniversityofAlabama Birmingham. The doctor was known for giving his patients every possible treatment option, including “you can choose to do nothing.” I admired that doctor’s courage in presenting a much less talked about option.
As I continued reading through the poem, I struggled with the concept of hope being presented as a detriment—much like the label of “false hope.” I don’t believe in “false hope” anymore than I believe in “last hope.” Hope doesn’t end with a disease process or with losing a loved one. Conversely, I believe that hope doesn’t end; it is what carries us through such painful times. Hope propels us to go on despite our circumstances.
When we refuse to accept that a loved one chooses to surrender the fight, we are clinging to fear…not hope. Guilt is another binding force; it teases our mind with “what if?” What if the treatment works this time? Yet, we must remember that empathy is tied to dignity. When you empathize with someone you don’t make choices for them—you listen and give them the dignity to choose—even when it doesn’t match what you (or the doctors) think is best.
I have found a new sense of peace and hope; it comes to me through the eyes of children. There is no double-edge sword in the way they view hope. A child’s ability to experience hope isn’t based on what the future might hold, or on the “what if’s.” It is based on the day to day journey with a loved one. Their perception of hope comes in snapshot moments. Adults, however, typically perceive situations based on life experiences and respond based on that baggage.
A child’s view of hope—and life itself—is quite a blessing worth considering. When I wrote the Little Pink Book™ “When Mom’s Cancer Doesn’t Go Away” for my sweet cousin, my heart felt exceedingly heavy for her teen-aged son. To convey hope inside the most painful point of their lives, I knew that empathy and dignity had to be intricately tied together. Through sparks of hope and snapshot moments, I filled their story with treasured lasts, sweet good-byes and eternal hope.
To me, there is no “last hope” or “false hope” in the book of life. When we live with hope and let go with hope, Huge Outcomes are Possible Everyday—that is HOPE!
(First appeared on Talk About Health blog, March 2012)