I have spent the last six weeks or so in a cancer ward. Not as some act of ministry or piety but because my wife Alison is there, and will be for several more months. Her prognosis is good, with the aim a complete cure from the lymphoma that has attacked her bones. The damage to the bones means she is immobile at present, hence the long stay. It is an amazing and thought provoking place. The nursing staff are incredibly hard working and caring. The doctors communicate well and regularly, and treat patients with respect and dignity. The complexity of the medical conditions and the consequent treatments is amazing and very impressive when you begin to understand how it all works (and I’m the kind of person who needs to know). Most thought provoking however, and cause of much reflection, are the other patients. Without breaking any confidences I would like to share some of their stories. Names are not real, but the people are.
Joan had been ill for a long time. She came in for yet another round of treatment. She was bright, intelligent, a driving force in her family and her business, and a delight to talk to. Everything organised and in its place. One day, it all went wrong, and she began a downward spiral very quickly. She decided that she had had enough and after consultation with the family, she withdrew treatment. She died a few days later, at peace and comfortable, with her family around her.
Chloe had been in for two months after admission because her local hospital was closed. Her family had miles to travel to see her but they came as often as they could. She was a positive, cheery force in the ward who just wanted to get her treatment sorted so she could go home. She went home with a smile.
Janet was a mum, whose teenage daughters, mother and sisters visited almost every day. They laughed a lot, and kissed a lot. Sometimes they laughed at the silly things Janet said because her brain tumour made her confused. They laughed together and with each other, never once demeaning or without love in the laughter. Janet died, peacefully and with her family around her.
The attitudes of these people with whom deep but short term relationships have formed in an alien environment have mostly been inspiring. Several other people have come and gone – either home or sadly passed on. Their approach to a time when their lives are ending has been almost universally one of peace tinged with the immense sadness of those around them. In getting to know them, I have learned a little of their own faith – for some it was strong, and for others tenuous at best.
In this season of Easter we rejoice in the resurrection of Christ and all that means to us. Jesus said that he came so that we can have life in all its fullness (John 10:10) and that he brings hope eternal (John 3:16). I’ve witnessed both in spades these past few weeks.