As the year 2017 is coming to a close and a new year is approaching I find myself thinking about what has passed and what’s to come. Today, I am catapulted back in time—to 2002 when one of the oncology nurses at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center introduced me—the medical humanist’s role—to a newly diagnosed patient.
“Maybe you can answer my question?” the patient asked.
“I’ll try,” I said.
“I find myself wondering when I should let my family and friends know that I have been diagnosed with cancer,” she explained. “I’m not sure when treatment will begin so is it better that they know now or should I wait.”
“Is avoidance an effort on my part to spare others or maybe a fear of me being unable to handle their responses?”
She paused for a moment and asked, “Do you think e-mail is an acceptable form of notifying them that I have been diagnosed with cancer?”
“Ah…” I hear myself say. “I think e-mail could be one of the prescribed forms. It allows you time to compose your thoughts, construct the message you want to send and to connect with your family and friends. And, for those who receive your message to have time to think about what it is you have said and how to respond.”
In such instances e-mails can protect us from one’s immediate response to the word cancer, which is only one word in the sentence. Or, as the poet Emily Dickinson discovered:
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live that Day.