Evening of Gratitude
Last night, BIDMC held an event to celebrate the hard work of so many people in our Cancer Center. It was at the Intercontinental in downtown Boston, and everything was perfect: the venue, the food, the program, and, most of all, the good feelings in the air and all the people who were there.
My husband and I were singled out for special thanks. It is easy for me to know why he and his work would be particularly celebrated. I am less clear about my own, but I think the planners of the event thought that it is a nice touch that we are married. (It certainly is nice for the two of us). At any rate, we each gave a short talk, and several people have asked me whether I would post it on this blog. Here it is:
mal" style="line-height: 200%; margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"> An Evening of Gratitude.
0in 0in 0pt;"> Thank you for being here . Thank you for caring about BIDMC and our very special Cancer Center. Thank you for helping us continue to do what we do best: care for our patients in the way that we would want our own families to be cared for.
Thank you for supporting Celebration of Life, our treasured annual event, of community, education, and celebration: the 18th this year, offered free to all 1000 participants. Many of our faculty and staff volunteer their time to plan, organize, and present their work on that day. No one is paid. As far as I know, no other institution in the country offers anything remotely like ours. It is a uniquely BID event, and it could not happen without your support. IF you are free on May 22nd please join us.
It is a cliché that we must experience hard times before we can appreciate the good ones. We would not be here tonight with our hearts so full and our arms outstretched to one another if we had not similarly walked in dark forests. We have learned while walking down rain-drenched paths that we must occasionally look heavenward and see, in the arching tree tops, a cathedral. Even noticing that splendor, we know that we must also be alert for roots and ready to brush the rain drops from our noses. Our paths have been different, one from another, but we all have walked towards the light, kept faith in our ability to just put one foot in front of the other, and eventually broken through to the clearing. Will there be other dark nights and strong storms? Undoubtedly, yes. Tonight we remind ourselves that we have weathered them before, and we can do so again. How can we be afraid of the night when we have so loved the stars?
I am very grateful for my family, friends, and for the doctors who have cared for me through two cancers. I am very grateful for the extraordinary people with whom I work. You have seen and heard of many of them this evening. Our patients benefit from our team approach, but so do we. Always, we know that we are working with the very best people. Always, we know that we have one another's back. Always, we are there for each other.
Most of all, I am grateful for my patients who are an extraordinary, marvelous, sustaining, loving group of women. They enrich my days and my life. The rest is for them: (with thanks to Mary Oliver for the questions)
WHAT DID YOU NOTICE? I noticed the small kindnesses that are daily miracles in our treatment areas. I have seen you stop to lay your hand on the shoulder of stranger who was clearly suffering. I have seen you share your special foods brought from home and, more importantly, your stories with each other. I have witnessed the extraordinary friendships that develop between men who sit next to one another each week to receive chemotherapy for their prostate cancer.
WHAT DID YOU HEAR? I heard the staff member from Transport who told me that, each time she comes to the Cancer Unit to take a patient to an X-ray or scan , she pauses for a moment and says a prayer for all who are there. I heard the pathologist who told me that each time she prepares a slide, she pauses before putting her eye to the lens and softly says: "Please help me get this right." I heard the young woman say to a friend: "Please hope for me." I heard a remarkable woman, dying from her cancer, who sent a last message to her family: "Please tell them I am not afraid."
WHAT DID YOU ADMIRE? I admired the young mother who, traveling with her family on the NJ Turnpike, stopped for lunch at a rest area. While eating, she noticed another young family enter the restaurant, and that mother was bald. My patient thought: "If she can do that, I can, too"—and she took off her wig. A few minutes later, looking around, she saw two other women had done the same. I admire our volunteers who come week after week to lighten the burden for others who are traveling the same route they once did.
WHAT ASTONISHED YOU? I was astonished a few years ago when a woman in my group for women with metastatic cancer transitioned to hospice care. Because she lived alone, the hospice first refused to become responsible, insisting that she needed a primary caregiver in her home. Her sisters in the group, all of them watching her last days and knowing they were seeing their own eventual futures, became her primary caregivers—making a schedule and insuring that one of them was always with her.
WHAT WAS MOST TENDER? The affection, dare I call it love, that sometimes grows between a patient and his/her medical caregivers. I have seen the respect, gratitude, warmth, and, yes, love that can flow between two brave people, caregiver and patient, who understand that we are all pilgrims in this world together.
WHAT WAS MOST WONDERFUL? The ways that you share your lives with me and with each other, the good and true bonds that we develop, the incredible relationships that we nurture, cherish, and treasure for every day of our lives.
AND FINALLY, WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS HAPPENING? I think we are all learning how to live. This diagnosis, which none of us wanted, brings us a chance to change. It brings a luminous perspective, a chance to pay attention, to learn how to be idle and blessed. It asks us what we plan to do with our "one wild and precious life." It permits us to loosen the yoke of unnecessary burdens or worries and wrap ourselves, instead, in a joyful cloak of many colors. I hope that your cloak, woven of all the experiences of your life, shelters and embraces you. I pray that each of us ,surrounded by blessings, carried forward by love, will learn to live as lions of courage and does of grace. Jane Kenyon wrote: "Let it come as it will and don't be afraid. God doesn't leave us comfortless, so let evening come" And remember, always, that we stand together and strong in that evening.