I finished surgery and found the family. The man’s wife was emerging from anesthesia and the tumor she had feared would be cancer was, happily, benign. He, however, was in obvious pain.
“Fantastic!” he exclaimed, but he added quietly, “I’m not sure I could have taken more bad news right now.”
When I asked him what he meant, he told me that his mother had died the week before, his sister had just died of cancer, and his own health problems might soon require surgery. He shook his head. “So many things to deal with all at once.”
The next day, I had bad news to share with a different family. This man’s aggressive cancer was back and rapidly growing despite treatment. Each day, he grew weaker. The patient’s wife had just lost her mother to cancer. Their sons were reeling from the ordeal. None of them was getting much sleep. His eyes contained an incredible sadness.
Each family was dealing with multiple simultaneous life-altering events, each of which would have been a powerful stressor. I marveled that, despite the assaults they were all enduring, they continued to find the strength to continue on.
Both times, I could do little but sit, listen, and promise to return.