On the Unanswered “Why?”

My past month has been primarily spent on the pediatric oncology service. Many days, I come home sad. Many days, I find myself at a loss of words as to what is appropriate to say to these families.

Do you smile at the mother of a child with a newly diagnosed cancer when you pass her in the hall? Is a “hello, how are you doing” ok or will it make her upset?

Is saying “I’m sorry” admitting defeat or appropriate for the cirumstances?

How do you look at child who is a shell of himself or herself after we’ve pumped them full of chemo, to make them eventually better, only to have them suffer terribly in the interim? Who can’t get out of bed or even have enough energy to play on an iPad?

What do you tell the mother who asks, “What happened to all of my prayers? Where are all of my unanswered prayers?” I’ve heard that having a child is like having your heart live outside of your body. And watching someone’s heart break in front of the parents’ eyes has really impacted me this month.

And, how can you listen to the screams of a child having his or her mediport accessed without wanting to yell, “No! Stop! You’re hurting him!” even though you know it must be done.

My sadness was compounded on Monday with the Boston Marathon bombings.

A new set of unanswered “whys” ensued.

What was the motive?

Who would do this?

Are my friends ok?

As many people have written or mentioned, it really could have been any of us. My first marathon I finished at 4:09:59, fairly close to finish time at which the bombs went off. My sister and her friends were at the finish, cheering me on. Most of us have these experiences – as runner or spectator – making it easy to imagine it happening to us or a loved one.

I felt it would be remiss of me not to mention the Boston Marathon bombings, but also don’t feel I can state as eloquently my feelings on what has transpired better than some of my friends (real or internet). Here are some links to really wonderful posts:

Boston 2013 – Finding Faith by Gia

Boston by Emily 

Love. Strength. Boston. by Pavement Runner 

Boston Is For Runners… And It Always Will Be. by Susan

Boston by Lauren (also has some good links)

Of course, I don’t have the answers to the unanswered “why” questions. But, what the world lacks for in answers, we make up for with hope, I guess.

I hope that less toxic, yet more effective treatments for children’s cancers will be developed so children suffer less through their treatments.

I hope my patients with the grim diagnoses are the exceptions to the rule. If a certain disease has a 20% survival rate, why can’t my patient be in that 20%?

I hope we can improve those survival rates.

I hope I can bring a bright spot to a family’s day while they are in the hospital, even if I am just with them for a few minutes.

I hope that the perpetrator of these horrible, senseless acts is found.

I hope that there are no more deaths from this attack.

I hope those who lost their limbs can get prostheses. And then I hope they will finish the Boston Marathon some day.

I hope the families affected are finding solace in this difficult time.

I hope for better gun control laws.

I hope for more good deeds to make headline news than acts of violence.

With much love.

And, until next time….

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4 thoughts on “On the Unanswered “Why?”

  1. Great post! Reading this while my son Josh plays with his new building planks we bought him for his bday. He just turned 11 and his sister will be 13 in a couple weeks. Once you become a parent there is this fear hidden deep inside that something tragic will happen to your child cancer, death, etc. I feel extremely blessed to never had the fear realized in my own household. As a family we pray often for those we know (or dont know) that need our prayers. I hope my children will never have to fear for me when I get to the start line of my next marathon.

  2. Excellently worded post. I definitely agree that often times it’s hard to find comfort in such hardship and sadness. I think it’s people like you, with the profession of serving and a dedication to helping others, that gives everyone a glimmer of hope in times like these. No one has the right answers of what to do or to say, but its the fact that you can empathize and care that brings comfort. Continue doing what you’re meant to be doing, “selving” (as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say) in your path toward helping others.

    P.S. I found your blog via other running blogs that I have followed for some time now, and I was so BEYOND excited to see someone who is so dedicated to health/fitness/running and that also is going through medical school! I’m currently a student at Columbia with the same aspirations and I’ve always been a little down by the thought that I’d have to give up my healthy lifestyle during the years I pursue a medical degree. I LOVE hearing about your time during school and your time during your clinical rotations. Do you have any friends that are in med school that are also writing blogs? I would love to read them!

  3. I can’t work in oncology. I can’t work somewhere where you try so hard, but it still fails. Where so much pain is caused, but you don’t know if it will be worth it in the end. At least when people scream on my unit (and trust me, they do…especially the kids), I generally know they’ll get better. It’s still heartbreaking to hear the kid cry down the hallway, but I at least know they’ll probably get better.

    But cancer just baffles me. I suppose I like things I can see…I know you can see test results and such, but the pain of cancer…I just don’t get it. It’s hard for me to understand. And cancer in general…you can do everything right in life, but still get it. No smoking, limited alcohol, healthy diet, exercise…etc, etc etc, and you still get it. At least when someone gets burned, it was some sort of dumb thing they did or at least an accident. Not that watching them scream (watching someone “scream” on a vent is terrible…) is any better.

    I have no point here…I just hope I don’t have to experience this with my family or friends. It’s so devastating.

    And Boston…well…I still don’t understand it.

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