A little more trauma, every day

Working in a cancer center, I know that it’s the way cancer has affected my life which makes me good at my job. The traumas – little and large – which have come along to hurt my friends and take family make it so that I know what it’s like to be a family member, a friend, and a caregiver from the other side.

At the same time, that enables me to get close – to become friends with a majority of the patients who come through our door and get sick in our infusion chairs.

It also means that I add a little more trauma to my life – a few more cuts every day – as I watch many people struggle with pain, nausea, diarrhea, hair loss, and indignity. I add a little more trauma every time one of those people I’ve come to consider a subset of Friend gives up the fight or is taken away by it.

A little more trauma, every day.

Büßende Maria Magdalena by Georges de La Tour, c. 1625-1650, oil on canvas

Büßende Maria Magdalena by Georges de La Tour, c. 1625-1650, oil on canvas

Most people deal with cancer once or a few times when it strikes them or a family member.  We deal with it 30-40 times per day when we see our Friends come through the door.

I can’t really explain why we do it. I know it’s not something everyone can do because I’ve seen people come and then go. Maybe it’s not a question of doing it or not doing it but more a question of how long we can do it. I just know that we do.

It’s not for money, because none of us are getting rich. It’s not for fame, because it’s healthcare and we can’t talk with any specifics about what we do daily without violating actual federal law.

Are we all part masochist?


Are we all using it as some calculated attempt to hold onto the memory of someone we lost?


Do we all have the desire to be able to say, “Today, I helped someone live” with equal narcissism and humility?


It’s all these and many more. We’re all damaged – just enough but not too much – so that we continue to come back again and to laugh with the man talking about his grandchildren while he gets chemotherapy, to hold the basin as someone else is sick and too weak to hold, or to have to take time – sometimes even several days – before we can write a message in a sympathy card to the family and friends left behind.

Regardless of the reason and the consequence, it is something we will each gladly do again tomorrow and the next day and the next.

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