We were on a three-hour road trip. My husband Scott was “driving” a self-driving car, our friend Jerry sat in the passenger seat, and I was in the back. Jerry was trying to reel in his fear from taking his first-ever ride in a self-driving car and tamp down his growing hunger as the aroma of delicious smoked beef brisket filled the car. Some people get quiet when they are filled with conflicting emotions. Jerry gets funnier. His one-liners had us laughing deep belly laughs. Scott enhanced the mood by exhibiting the car’s best feature, the ability to make whoopee-cushion sounds originate from any seat he chose.
If you can imagine a top movie producer calling on speakerphone only to hear a loud “phussssuttt” sound erupt from the bowels of Scott’s seat, you can get a sense of how this crazy trip began. But after a while, the mood in the car became more serious. Jerry, a brilliant scholar, and author shared a paradigm shift that had occurred in his family. Doctors had diagnosed his son, Nicholas, with cancer.
Even though we all know intellectually that such crises happen to families every day, nothing prepares us for the moment when an emergency hits home. When it does, the moment is stamped indelibly on our hearts. We remember where we were, what we were wearing, what scent was in the air and the exact time on the clock hanging just above the doctor’s head.
In a flash, that imagery then begins to recall all the warning signs that you file in the recesses of our mind. Unbelievable guilt often follows, …, If I had just…taken these warnings more serious. In an instant, you know your life has changed. That reliable anchor tying you to the life you had always known is gone. Suddenly you are untethered, being lashed about, drifting God-knows where. For others, this paradigm shift feels more like crashing into a brick wall. Either way, life as we have known it has changed forever.
While waiting to get in to see the first cancer expert, Jerry and his wife, Cindy, did what most people in “the information age” do: they scoured the Internet for help, answers, and statistics on survival success. They sought hope through numbers, but the numbers they found were dismal. Their first visit to the oncologist confirmed their fears that his cancer had a 35% survival rate. (They were still living in knowledge, not wisdom).
They chose to seek another opinion, which is always advisable with any new and serious diagnosis. A second older and more experienced oncologist stated that, in his experience, “normal” treatment had shown a 65% chance of long-term survival! Because Jerry and Cindy took the time to ask their long list of questions, they left a little more encouraged.
Jerry and Cindy and all who loved them were praying. They felt called to consult a third experienced clinician, which resulted in yet another prognosis. Looking at the same child, the same cancer and lab results, and the same treatment options, this doctor felt strongly that Nicholas had a 100% chance of long-term survival (and he promised that if anything ever changed in his prognosis, he would promptly inform them).
I am sure you would choose as Jerry and Cindy did. Nicholas began care with the third doctor. Today, many years after that jarring paradigm shift from healthy to sick, he experiences good health.
To be sure, not every story ends like this; however, this family’s decision to seek more than one opinion in the face of a serious illness was wise. And do not minimize the hope offered by doctor number three. When the family was trying to stay afloat amid waves of despair and hopelessness pounded their shores, she threw them a lifeline.
In this example, there was a clear benefit to what Doctor # 3 had to say about their son. However, beyond this example, I have developed a list of questions which will help guide these early decisions. I have also developed a list of questions if you must be hospitalized. Both can be accessed under The Good Death Lifestyle ingredient Wisdom