Monday, June 25, 2012

No Magic Bullet

Ok, so I’m no Pollyanna.

I will wait for the gasping and fainting from shock to subside.

I tend to see the glass half empty and about to fall off the table, where it will crash to the floor in a spectacular display of What Gravity Does. I am a master at the art of defensive pessimism, a mastery born of getting epically catastrophic news rather too many times.

This doesn’t mean I have no hope. Hope really does spring eternal, even if it’s just a tiny kind of stunted looking sprout in the garden of yikes we tend here. But hope does live.

FALSE hope I have a huge problem with. False hope is like fake flowers in my garden.

                                            I don't think blue roses occur in nature. Yergh.


This kind of builds on my last post (if I asked you to read this blog, it was for my Ode to Oncologists, please do read that…and feel free to read on, if you can stomach it). I suppose I should insert a GIANT OPINIONS ABOUT TO COME FORTH! Warning here….

A ginormous part of the reason we so trust our doctor is because she has never given us false hope. When things have been dire, she tells us. You have to be educated about the enemy you fight, and if things are grim I need to know so my spouse and I can choose the right weapons to fight. We know that the statistics of success with any chemo protocol are garbage. We know this, and no one ever promises us otherwise.

That said, we do have hope, because within our community we know kids who have found stability. For 5 years my second born WAS one of those kids. I have to hope we can get back there again. Today a spot of headache and dizziness have made that hope slippery…sigh.

Understandably, any parent in the spot we are in would LOVE promises of sunshine and wellness and sparkly rainbows. All of us would LOVE the magic bullet, the thing that will make all of this suffering go away. Heck, that’s why so many parents and family and friends of people battling awful illnesses work so hard for research dollars.

not this kind of magic bullet, we do have one of these for
all the healthy smoothies my kid refuses to drink.


(As a side note, there is a reason most anti-cancer/anti-NF efforts are geared towards treatments and less towards prevention. Imagine a house is on fire. Smoke! Flames! Alarms! Your first efforts of course are to rescue anyone inside and put out the blaze. While those flames are burning you may want to hold off on studying why the fire started and how to prevent future fires. You quench the flames FIRST. That is why research tends to have that treatment bias. As a parent searching for an extinguisher, I appreciate this. It’s really NOT a pharmaceutical conspiracy, I promise. There is a reason. ).

Unfotunately, there is no magic bullet.  (except the one above)

Yes, we can do things to be healthier, eat right, exercise, brush our teeth, floss, wear a seatbelt, wear sunblock, get enough sleep, find spiritual and emotional support. We can and should do these things…

But there is no magic recipe for healing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Some illnesses are more curable than others. That’s just the way it is.

From a religious standpoint (my lens here is both secular and religious), God promises us that He will give us the desires of our heart, He says He has a future full of hope for us…but He doesn’t exactly specify WHEN this stuff is going to happen. Religious texts (Bible and otherwise) are full of stories of people who generally had a really rotten time of things. The best, most faithful people got smote. Life happens, even to good people. Some of their stories truly don’t end well…but we believe that ultimately there is more beyond this life.

As friend to a lot of people who have lost their children, this hope is so critical, this hope that we will meet again somewhere where brain tumors and NF and cancer are not even memories.

God promises He will be with us, even mid-smitefest, even if it doesn’t feel like He is. Sometimes that means stable scans and a break from chemo. Sometimes that means having the chutzpah to go into chemo with a smile and an awful animal joke for your oncologist.

And my point is?

God does NOT promise that if we eat a certain way, or exercise a certain way, or buy a certain program, that we will be “doing His will!” and thus be preserved from illness. He does not say this. Ever.

Even if good looking and charismatic people say that He says this…He doesn’t. Within a variety of faith traditions, that’s pretty easy to check. He doesn’t.

Promising people cancer immunity if they cut out sugar and avoid traditional medicine and buy a particular (expensive) program of wellness because That is What God Wants…this makes me insane. It’s not true, and for people desperately wanting that magic bullet, people wanting to be faithful to a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world, this goes beyond marketing into cruel manipulation. Saying people who choose traditional medicine and leave the program die…unconscionable.

“Claiming” healing as part of a program may make you feel good, but I just have not EVER seen God be like “Oh! Phew! You loudly and publically CLAIMED healing, THAT will make all the difference, those quiet prayers were just too blasé. “ Actually, I can think of at least one or two times where God was like “hey, don’t make a big show of praying so people are like, Whoa, that is some hard core praying there.” “Claiming” healing should not become a commercial for a product or program. That is exploitive of the person who is sick, and again, just cruel. Really, really cruel.

And I should say, we have gone to healing services with my G, one with a very famous priest who has a healing ministry. I was so leery…and we got there, and he was the most unassuming man I’ve ever met. “I pray, and sometimes God sends healing,” he explained. No conditions, no “you have to DO THIS”, no guilt or rules or anything. Just a simple faith that hey, asking God for healing never hurts. And he took about 30 seconds and said a simple prayer with my G, quietly, so only we could hear, just asking for healing. And you know what? 6 months later she was sicker than she had ever been, but honestly, MOMMA had been healed of guilt and anger and hurt. I was able to help G, and cling to hope because that quiet, humble prayer so touched MY heart. Didn’t see THAT coming…

I don’t think God is looking for any kind of endorsement deal. He doesn’t need extra publicity or residuals from having His name appear on “wellness” programs.

We all just do the best we can. No one should feel guilty for doing the best they can. No parent of a kid with cancer or a brain tumor knowingly or unknowingly GAVE their child this illness. Implying that choices create cancer “95% of the time” holds a particularly vile form of guilt for parents who are already suffering. Using that guilt to sell something…


I think I have said my piece. My heart is so full every single day for our friends battling, for our friends mourning their lost children. My heart breaks when I think too much about the moment we are in right now. My heart shudders when I fish out the separate calendar I have (once again) just for medical stuff, or when my kid tells me her head feels “funny”.

That’s why I have to say this. And because the claims I mention were made very publically by someone who knows my children pretty closely, I do take it personally. How can you know us and say these things? What cognitive disconnect exists that allows these ideas to ferment in your mind?

But now I have said my piece, and I have to let it go for now, even though I know, despite my efforts, these words will likely never get where they need to go. Now I will go back to silliness, and I will write down the ill-advised tattoos thing in my head and Zen and the Art of Sparkly Rainbows. No more heavy stuff for a while.  Actually, we have some very exciting happy stuff happening in 2 weeks... : )  : ) 

the tattoo I saw that inspired the Blog in Waiting can not be reproduced in a family friendly manner, ahem.  So enjoy the sparkly rainbow.

Thank you to anyone who read this, and can hear it. I appreciate that. And I do pray for our friends every day…that God bring healing, and if not healing then grace for the moment.

You are all much in my heart.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

An Ode to Oncologists

I have been having blog overload..too many ideas that I want to spew forth, from ill-advised tattoos to sparkly rainbows…and still zero energy to say anything.

So today, as my second born naps off chemo on the living room couch, I figured I would begin with an Ode To Oncologists.

I figure most folks have a list of people they’d love to meet. I would love to share snarky commentary with Jon Stewart, or have lunch with Bernie Williams, or just behold the splendor of Aretha Franklin. Two years ago I got to meet one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Sara Groves,  and I instantly burst into hysterics as I tried to tell her what her songs had meant to me during some really difficult patches in my life. That was a Meeting FAIL.

I imagine I can pretty safely speak for EVERYONE IN THE UNIVERSE when I say that an oncologist is NOT on your list of “new friends to make”.

I recently heard a talk that briefly discussed oncologists, how if THEY get cancer only 9% will opt for chemotherapy because it truly is useless (I have no clue if this number is even remotely accurate, although based on some of the other gems in this talk I would guess it is Ye Olde Fanny Number, pulled from where the light don’t shine)…how they prescribe poison for people and are resistant to any other treatment options…how they don’t listen, blah blah blah. Basically, if you are sick with cancer, the gist of this portion of the talk was Run Away From Oncologists.

Granted, some doctors have the bedside manner of slugs. Some don’t listen, some are gloomy, some are arrogant.

One could perhaps note that these traits are not limited to oncologists…ahem.

But I can say with 100% certainty that the folks giving this particular talk have never actually met a real oncologist, or certainly never spent time observing one of these docs at work for any length of time.

Over the last 8 years we have spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out in a pediatric oncology clinic at one of the best hospitals in the country. Because of the nature of the community in which we’ve found ourselves, we know lots of other folks who spend inordinate amounts of time hanging out with OTHER pediatric oncologists in other great hospitals around the world .

In our experience, and the experiences of most of our friends, these docs are Mother Teresas with medical degrees and comfortable shoes.

Oncology is not an industry, and I take great offense hearing it referred to that way. It is a vocation.

The first day we met our neuro-oncologist (specifically an oncologist for brain and spinal tumors), less than 24 hours after finding out that our child had massive hydrocephalus and a huge brain tumor, when my husband and I were nearly incoherent with grief and fear and our 6 year old was hungry and crabby…our doctor spent the first 10 minutes of our first meeting chatting with G. She instantly put her at ease, laughed at G’s silliness, hugged her….

We knew within 30 seconds that we had found the right person to save our child.

Over the years we have had some really horrific times and some really happy times, and our doctor has never given up on our child. She laughs with us, tells it to us straight, gives us all the time and information we need. Whenever I’ve asked a difficult question, she answers it like a walking encyclopedia.

I love the power of walking encyclopedia-ness. I love knowing that mighty lady is my daughter’s super hero.

And you know, we are not like the lucky one in a million to get our Dr. B. (although I am so grateful, and do think we are lucky).  Most of our friends in this community have similar stories about doctors doing everything possible to save THEIR children. Adult friends with cancer have similar relationships with THEIR doctors.

This is a tough job. During one brutal season in our journey several years ago, I said to our doctor via e-mail that I was so sorry she had to give us such horrible news, even as we were crushed I felt so bad for her…I knew, through observation, that we were not her only patients to end up ashen-faced and silent in the waiting room that day…and that must be the worst part of her job. And she replied, “you put a finger on my woes”…

Taking care of critically ill children and adults is a vocation. Using inefficient treatments is frustrating for these doctors, we have seen that time and time again. Our doctor suffered with us when G’s last scan was such a train wreck. She WANTED it to work for us, which is a massive DUH, but really. It apparently needs to be said! While the clinical trial G did was a total bust for her, I don’t regret doing it. We needed to try and push research forward and hope that this would be the magic bullet for G’s tumors. We so appreciate that our doctor talked us through our options, shared her insights both about the meds and about our G, how she would tolerate more frequent hospital trips, etc.

She wants G to beat the tumors. She also wants her to be happy.

Yesterday, as we were leaving the exam area to march over to the day hospital for chemo, I stopped by the door where our doc was filling out our appointment forms. “So it’s ok, right, that she’s doing so well? “ (I get an illogical fear that if my daughter tolerates chemo well it’s not working…granted, the last chemo whomped her and then failed, so I know this is an illogical fear, but it’s hard to shake).

Our doc turned to me and smiled, “She’s wonderful. This time it will be different.”

After 8 years, I know Dr. B doesn’t just humor me. She knows I am neurotic and anxiety ridden, and she and I think alike on a lot of things related to my G, which I so appreciate. I am still a wreck about our next scan. I told Dr. B I would be full of sunshine and optimism and sparkly rainbows, (sarcasm is my language of choice for clinic), but I did feel better. It was her love for my kid that made me feel good. Her hope gave me hope, and that is the best medicine for any of this, really.

We’ll see what this combo brings. I hope it brings stability, oh, how I hope that. But either way, I know we have a mighty and loving doctor on our side who is not part of some pharmaceutical conspiracy or in this awful line of work for the money. She, and so many other neuro-oncologists and oncologists like her have a vocation to try and save lives.

So the next time someone makes some big statement about oncologists as bad guys, think about how this could truly hurt people just starting their fight against cancer or tumors or any kind of monster illness. This is a battle, and assembling a great team is key to hopefully beating the beast…

Lord knows, it is a battle…

But that will be another post.