CPN | When Our Doctor Cried with Us

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When Our Doctor Cried with Us

There were many tears during the first year of my daughter’s cancer treatment. Her tears, our tears, and the collective tears from her siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends; tears as the shock of having a cancer diagnosis rattled through us, tears at the looming treatment plans, and tears of missing a life without cancer. I remember one night during a long hospital stay, while my daughter Lauren was sound asleep. I was flipping through channels and got sucked into a Hallmark movie. The heroine had leukemia, but survived and thrived happily ever with her Hallmark boyfriend. I remember using up all of the tissues and searching for another box. My daughter didn’t have a TV friendly version of leukemia and even though we were very early in her diagnosis, I already knew cancer to be much meaner and sadder. 

After a full and brutal year of chemo, we were sent home in a free fall, and told to come back for a follow up scan in a few months. The day we returned for the scan something felt off in the world. Our nurses, who we had gotten to know so well the past year, were friendly but aloof. In my mind, I had expected our reunion to be happier. Lauren’s oncologist found a small room to talk to my husband Dan and me. Lauren stayed back to play with the child life therapist. As Lauren’s doctor explained that her cancer had returned, she began to cry. Dan and I were crying too. For a few moments, we just cried together, sitting with the news. I can still feel the smallness of that room, medical and office equipment crammed next to a small table and chairs. I can still hear the quiet as we cried alongside each other. 

My opinion of our oncologist changed that day. I had always respected her approach and her ability to explain Lauren’s treatment in an understandable way. I appreciated that she took extra time with me to show me the scans and teach me about the indicators she looked for. I felt heard and seen as a parent each time we saw her. I liked how she laid out upcoming treatment plans. She was responsive and I knew I never had to wait long for a call back for a middle of the night question. She was collaborative, and creative. She helped us adjust chemo schedules for school field trips. She was smart, thorough, kind, and caring. 

There in that little conference room, crammed together as she told us our daughter’s cancer had returned, she also became beautifully human. We saw a vulnerable and loving person, as devastated as we were about our fate. 

That summer day will be seared in my mind forever. The apprehension walking into the office, the way everyone was avoiding us until we knew what they knew. The look on Lauren’s face when we explained her cancer was back. The quiet ride home as she stared out the window. But what is also seared is the memory of a doctor who loved my child and wasn’t afraid to show me through her tears.