When receiving hurts


When compassion hurts II

In my previous contribution to this blog I spoke about how sometimes it hurts when others do not receive our presents and how some other times it's us on the other side who find that the things that others offer are not helpful or may even harm us. I am speaking about people you love and whom love you without any doubt. There's a lot at stake because they are convinced that not giving you what they want to give you may hurt you. Plus, they have often been right about their judgment.

For example, a few moments earlier they have cleaned your own feces that have spread over the bed and the floor while you were frozen, desolate and disgusted, not knowing what to do. Those people covered your needs in the most effective way and they have expressed heartily that they preferred to do that, even if they did not find the task too pleasant. There are moments that generate gratitude that lasts a lifetime and this was such a moment for me recently. However, imagine, these people's compassion now weights down on you, it may even hurt or harm you.

I had the formidable whim of eating a pork stew with beans three weeks after a surgery that had removed my rectum, only days after having had a really severe intestinal colic with vomits that almost took me back to the hospital. My sister Elva, I'm sharing this with her permission, suggested kindly to order another dish and leave the stew for a later time. I thought about her reasonable proposal. I thought about the tremendous hunger I felt for something I sensed I needed; my body was severely deprived of salt and fat after having lost a lot of weight. I thought about the need to own my destiny and to make a mistake, if that was going to be the case. I thought about leaving aside my oversweet chronic tendency to be a good and obedient child. As I was not in kamikaze mood, I also thought about the real possibility that the pork stew with beans triggered another colic attack.

The important thing here is that my sister and I were not in agreement about what was truly the best for me at that moment. Her love, undeniable, unconditional, or rather the opinion that her love generated, felt oppressive. I chose to eat the stew, against her common sense, and that brought us both a disappointment that we endured stoically while I chewed bean after bean. She was sure that it was not a good idea and I knew she was having a hard time because of that... but I also enjoyed the stew. I made my decision following a strong intuition that could be selfish and stubborn, seeking my peace and overall peace. I've quoted Unamuno before in this blog, who wrote "truth before peace" (which I interpret as "truth for peace"). Above all previous considerations, I saw clearly that, whatever happened, I did not wish that my sister's love became pressure for me. I did not want to do that to her!

We may say it was the correct decision because the stew agreed with my body. What if it had not? I wrote in my previous contribution that, despite discomfort or disappointment, an underlying feeling of peace, balance and security, remains when we know we make the best decision knowing what we know. That was the case for me despite the discomfort caused by disappointing my sister. I actually saved myself a few additional layers of unease. What about my sister?

Let me explain, this is all extremely relevant in decisions that I will have to make very soon in what will be my next step of this experience of cancer, decisions regarding doing now preventive chemotherapy or not. The doctors' opinions, based on data that we know and on their best intentions, is that I do chemotherapy. My opinion is a little bit more complex...

To start with, I am an exceptional case, having survived a Central Nervous System lymphatic cancer twice, and high-dose chemotherapy twice. We will never know this for sure but my doctors acknowledged that this third episode of cancer could have very well resulted from previous chemotherapies. Furthermore, cancer studies are based on survival and remission rates in the mid-term (3 to 5 years) but they generally ignore long-term outcomes as much as other aspects of quality of life. My doctors also acknowledged that after having removed tumor and rectum, because I preferred not to do chemotherapy before surgery, we cannot be sure about how effective that chemotherapy is now preventing a relapse.

My wisdom and discernment include experiences with other doctors in the past that I also consider. Those other doctors insisted in 2016 on doing radiotherapy which I did not see as "ideal". After 14 months of chemotherapy at the hospital, a little white spot continued to appear in my brain MRIs. According to their professional opinion, that could not be simply scar tissue. There had not been surgery... but I wondered, couldn't that be caused by a small hemorrhage? Again, I felt a powerful intuition that suggested that possible benefits of radiotherapy at this point did not outweigh the known risks. The conversation was not pleasant for any of the parties but I made the decision that brought more peace, balance and security, regardless of the outcomes. I did not do radiotherapy and stopped the chemotherapy. That white spot, whatever it is, continue to show up in my brain MRIs, without bothering me at all for the time being.

Coming to the end, I wish to thank the good intentions and wisdom of all physicians who had me and have me now under their care, who no doubt do the best they can, having saved my life three times. In particular, I want to express my admiration for this new team of professionals who are treating me at the M. de Valdecilla hospital in Santander, Spain, and among them, the surgeon. Dr. Carmen Cagigas, and the oncologist, Dr. Eva Martínez de Castro. I recently spoke about a nurse as well, Noemi.

It is not easy to be a good professional. It is even harder to be a good human being. These professionals and I have been able to have the most pleasant conversation about the most important things. They have offered me their best opinion, acknowledging what they know and what they don't, and they have offered me something that is fundamental: the space to make the decision that will bring me the most peace...

In this wonderful space, although it would be important not to make a mistake, it is also very important to feel my truth and know that, whatever I decide, I'm not going to be distracted by trying to be (or not to be) a good boy. I owe that to them and to me, to all of us. I wonder if this will maximize the possibility of making the right choice. What matters most to me is facing whatever I have to face with peace.