Friday, May 01, 2009

What I have Learned from Cancer

What I have learned from cancer is pretty simple. The human touch is necessary. Not just the touch of nurses and doctors and chemo techs and radiation techs. But the touch of people who are not there to do a proceedure on you, who are not there to perform a chore or provide a service or any of the things associated with the disease.

My doctor, the one who sort of sounds like Stephen Moyer when I close my eyes, is a very proper Brit. I like him, though he is a funny doctor, and ordinarily,I am impatient with funny doctors, but today when he visited my room, he seemed down. I haven't any of my magikal energies back to any sort of level, but his aura was static-like and troubling.

He's had a "spot of bad news" as he said, in his very proper Queen's English. Apparently his brother was involved in a very serious car accident and will likely be paralyzed from the waist down. He is my doctor's twin brother. And my doctor is making the trip home soon to see him. I reached out and touched his hand. He has slender, delicate hands, the hands of a surgeon. They were very warm to me and though I think he felt uncomfortable with me touching him (I think this had more to do with his Britishness than with my being sick), he seemed to relax as I squeezed the hand that opened me up and birthed my little stranger. That seems so intimate, but I tell you, there was nothing more intimate than that moment, touching his hand.

And when he left, I thought how amazing it felt to hold another person's hand. How much energy I felt in the warmth and pressure of his hand. Then I thought about all the times that I was alone and afraid and I wished there was someone there to hold my hand. My mom did it for a while, and after a while she just couldn't bear to touch me anymore. And my dad was the same, though he chickened out sooner. And then there was my sister, who touched me like a nurse, perfunctory, like a professional.

Jaime and I used to hold hands when we were at club chemo. He had leukemia and he had even more pain than I did and sometimes I think he held my hand because he was in pain and he felt braver because he didn't want be scared in front of me. I was holding his hand when he died.

But to have a living person hold your hand, a healthy, well nourished, warm skinned person hold your hand is like lying in a warm bath, feeling the support and gentle pressure of the water holding you securely and holding you up at the same time. It is that cone of peace and normality that says there are still living creatures out there who will not shrink from your touch.

So, if you find yourslef in a situation where you are with the sick and you can't find anything to say, simply hold their hand, stroke their fingers and let them feel your living heat. It will be the touch of life for them.