My mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. I can’t even begin to describe the shock I felt or how my heart just sank. In an otherwise healthy person with no family history, this is not something you ever expect to happen. My mind immediately jumped to so many different conclusions, and I immediately wanted answers. Is she going to beat this? How did this happen? Why did this happen? What are her chances specifically? Did we catch it early enough? Are the treatments going to work? Are they enough? What else can we do?
The questions that arise in your mind at a time like this are endless. The answers are limited.
Needless to say, she’s devastated and the whole family is struggling to cope.
As a doctor, one of my biggest struggles has been trying to figure out how much to tell them based on what I know and understand and also asking myself how much more I want to find out. I have been trained to empathize and sympathize with and provide support for my patients but to also be realistic about the future. How do you balance that when the patient is your own family? As for any further research, how much do I really want to know? And how will that help my Mom? How will that help me as I struggle to accept what is going on?
As a daughter, I have been determined to focus only on being optimistic. I searched for all the positive aspects of this situation and repeated them to myself like a mantra. I’ve grabbed onto any hopeful feedback I can get and have shielded myself from thinking about anything else. I can’t, won’t, think about losing my mother and my best friend so soon. There is power in hope. We see miracles happen daily. How can you ignore the people that beat the odds? How can you only rely on facts when there are clearly other factors at play?
As a doctor, I asked my dad to send me a copy of her CT scans so I could show them to physicians at my own hospital where I work. As a daughter, as soon as I received it, I felt fear. Fear that I would find out more bad news — that there was something the original report left out.
As a daughter, I have cried myself to sleep every night and woke up with tears in my eyes every morning. Watching your mom suffer is like crawling through the seventh level of hell. And all I can do is hold her hand and tell her it will be OK, that she will get through it, that she is strong, that she is able. And I hope that my efforts are enough.
As a doctor, I pray that my promises will not be broken … that the statistics running around in my head don’t apply to her. That she beats the odds and the treatments work.
As doctors, we are taught to comfort our patients. However, no one ever teaches you how to comfort your mom.
No one teaches you how to separate being a doctor from being a daughter … or a son or a spouse.
About a week after I received it, I finally showed the scans to a physician I work with. He gave me some hope, but as a doctor and a daughter I know only time will tell.
I just spent the last few days at home with my mom and dad. Over that time, I have stepped back from the statistics and facts that a physician may focus on. I have stopped researching the disease and gathering more information.
I realized that my mom has a doctor, a whole team of them. What she needs from me is her daughter.
Sanjana Vig is an anesthesiologist and can be reached at BeThree.
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