Sunday, January 9, 2011

Oases of Hope

I have a friend who is undergoing massive chemotherapy to treat her cancer. She is likely to be in the hospital for at least a month. Right now, after a week, she is nauseous, exhausted, losing weight, and sleeping or zoning out a lot. When she's present, she is remarkable in her ability to hold two seemingly parallel realities -- that this is a desperate treatment with low odds and that she is living now and hopes to keep on living. Her husband describes this quality as "grit."

He often drops by our house at 9:00pm or 10:00pm, after having spent all day by her side. We talk about many things -- sadness, loss, our kitchen renovation, current events. We also talk about hope.

For many people I have met, hope is a bi-polar condition. It's opposite is despair. Either one hopes that there will be recovery or one despairs that damage or death is more likely. Every word spoken by the health care team becomes an augury. Every increase or decrease in temperature, every food product consumed and kept down, every smile or sigh -- become a sign of hope or despair, of life or death.

Since the distance between the states of hope and despair is so vast, and the signals to switch from one to the other are so continuous, this form of polarity-thinking is exhausting.

What's needed are stepping stones, or intermediate resting places -- oases of hope. As Anne Frank wrote in her diary, "Where there's hope there is life." To that I would add: Hope is not only found; it is created.

We can create these oases of hope that break up the long haul of illness and provide us with sustenance along the way. To do so requires two things:
  • Paying attention
  • Focusing on the ways in which the small can be momentous.
My friend and her well partner can hope for one good day. They can hope she has a quiet night of restful sleep. They can hope that the pain meds or the anti-nausea meds will help. They can hope that the new day nurse will not only be expert but also intuitive. They can hope that she will be able to enjoy two scoops of ice cream. They can find joy in her pride in hearing about her son's first day at a new job. They can find strength in her insistence that the IV holder be positioned differently to give her easier access to the bathroom. They can appreciate her "grit" in insisting that he (her partner) stop bugging her about food and take better care of himself by allowing friends to do his laundry and cook for him.

My husband hoped for and got joy from my quiet snoring that indicated to him that sleep had finally freed me from pain. I found hope (and a role model) in walking my dog and observing the ways in which she set challenges for herself (like finding a chicken bone buried under two feet of accumulated snow), appreciated her moment of conquest, and then moved on to the next adventure.

What are your oases of hope?


Baffled said...

*Having a day when I have enough energy to shower.
*Smelling of soap and shampoo.
*Dressing in clothes instead of pajamas.
*Being able to throw food in a crockpot so we can have a homecooked meal.
*Being able to read a book.
*Being able to go shopping even if it is in a wheelchair.
*Being able to go to the library.
*Being able to go for a road trip with my hubby just to see the scenery on a sunny day.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Brilliant Baffled. I love your list. I identify with so many of your oases. Thanks for sharing them.