“I don’t need this right now,” he said as I finished telling my patient the plan of his care. He had been quiet. I sighed and made my way back to my chair to settle down. Sitting down, I let my mind wander. It’s not easy to change things midstream but I think oncologists should re-examine when prompted subtly or blatantly, to what they are actually saying to a patient. I started to eliminate the stressors that plague every day practice. It’s a busy clinic, 40 odd some patients to see, bouncing between good and bad news. We were both quiet. In his silence I sensed his resentment, and I felt sad. Behind his silence, there was anger.

He fidgeted. I watched him remove his cap, stifled by the news I had just delivered. They try to teach you this in medical school as my mind raced through my training (14 years), empathy they called it. As a physician I have learned not to depend only on my training to help my patients but also on my life experiences that have brought me to where I am. I searched for something within my life that he could relate to; I know adversity and I know anger. I looked specifically for strengths that I had understood at his age when I myself had faced difficult situations. Yes, I thought quietly, I know where you are. You’re angry. I let that emotion into me, a little bit of self-exposure, and the patient and I became one. Sometimes it’s hard to invite a complete stranger into your own home, but anger was not a stranger to me.

I was young when I was touched by a war – the Gulf crisis as it is referred to. I was angry then, like a young person would be if their life had been interrupted by something they had no control over. Cancer is a war. It demands a constant engagement of every aspect of our humanness to fight. It does not mean we fight without emotion. It does not mean we are raving lunatics either. It’s a constellation of problems, an inconvenience, a cost, and an interruption. It puts a halt on education, careers, motherhood, retirement, and vacation. It consumes time, money, and emotions. There is never a good time for it, and there never will be. Empathy is a deep connection that exists between two humans where one can show true understanding and bring meaning to a difficult situation. Empathy is not observed it is felt.

We sat quietly. Nothing more needed to be said. In the end, like a spilt jug of water on the floor, we both got up and started to pick up the pieces and clean the mess. Cancer, you can’t defeat the human spirit. Cancer, you are just in the way. Cancer you are not winning anything. Cancer, you have a lot to answer to. Naive is my scientific brain, just as bravery is when facing a formidable foe. I am not the one to bring cancer to its knees but I do believe that those who suffer from it do that daily.



14 thoughts on “Quiet

  1. Thank you Dr Mo!! You are all always in our thoughts and prayers!!! Much love to you and your staff!! The family of Harold Bielema ~

  2. Mo, this meant a lot to read. You captured a lot of how I felt even though I often tried to hide my anger and sadness as I went through treatment. Cancer was a huge deterrent from school for me but my family and I have never forgotten your empathy or Dr. Monga’s. I look forward to a day when I am learning from you again but this time as a student and not a patient.

  3. Thank you for the post Dr. Moe—–I’m still here—-missing Tom every day but thanking God that we had you AND your assistants. which made a bad thing…. tolerable. Keep in there fighting and someday, someway we will lick this thing called cancer! Pauline Mc


  4. Mo, I’m not sure how you do this on a daily basis, but know you help so many. Their families depend on someone, I guess that’s you. I wouldn’t have had my handsome husband as long as I did, if it weren’t for you. You help so many and we are very greatful for everything. My husband loved you and put his life in your hands. I’m so thankful, because I wouldn’t have had the time with him, if hadn’t been you. My family will always be so greatful for you and the time that we got with him, because of you. I promise you that my sweet, man believed in you at times I didn’t. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad but, cancer is cancer! I wished you could have cured him, but I guess that wasn’t in the plan. Lobberecht Strong 💪 💪

  5. Good to hear from you Dr. Mo, missed seeing you last visit to the clinic, Thank you for your words of wisdom of this day I ponder what is hurting me worse, the cancer pain, the hurt of the news from DSM or the negativity shown to my child yesterday. Please keep writing about your aspects of daily care you give to so many at the clinic. Your words are therapy to the soul and help us cancer patients to heal. Meg

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