Thursday, May 2, 2013

Unmerited Criticism

I continue the story of my cancer journey. You can read more in earlier posts, including here.

"Just get this treatment and your cancer will be gone." Those encouraging(?) words were spoken to my dad right after he discovered that his cancer could be slowed down, but not stopped. The speaker was a friend, who was also a neighbor and a fellow church member. They weren't spoken with tenderness, but with force. The man truly believed that a miracle cure was out there, but wasn't recognized by the traditional medical community. He was willing to be rude and merciless in his drive to force someone away from knowledgeable medical advice. Sad reality is that the man who spoke so passionately to my dad was diagnosed with cancer after my dad and died a lot sooner than him.

It was my memory of dad's experience that gave me a "heads up" about the ways people want to get involved once they hear you have cancer. Most of them mean well, I think, but they often come across as arrogant and without compassion. One man left a note in my office that he wanted to speak with me. I ran into him one Sunday morning at church. With great enthusiasm, he told me about his treatment, which was a new type of radiation. When I explained to him that we had decided surgery was the most prudent route in my case, he tried to talk me out of it. As I attempted to help him understand the peace we had with our decision and that I was truly happy that his treatment seemed to be working, he became visibly angry. He was a guest at our church that day and I don't think I saw him again after that. His friends who brought him came to me later and apologized for his behavior.

Another man at church asked for an appointment with me. Though I know (and like) him, his request was unusual. "What do we need to talk about?" I asked, hoping to sound gentle. "You don't need surgery," he said. "I can tell you how to get rid of that cancer." Because of our friendship and my relationship with his family, I gave him the appointment. He came in with information about something that he said would change my drinking water and flush the cancer out of my system. He wasn't trying to sell me anything, but genuinely believed that this would fix my problem. He responded with kindness when I turned him down.

Many people have asked me about my cancer and most of them are praying for me. Occasionally one of them spoke with enthusiasm about our choice to do surgery. Several of my pastor friends are prostate cancer survivors who chose surgery; they have been a source of great encouragement and a wealth of information. The one conversation that sticks with me, though, happened after I returned from surgery. A woman I know approached me at church upon my return and said, "I'm so glad you had it removed!" "Me, too," I replied. She then went on to tell me about her husband who chose another treatment and the cancer kept coming back. With a broken heart, she concluded: "The long and invasive treatments have changed my husband's personality. The gentle, caring man I married has been replaced by someone I don't even know."