Five year survival is the medical gold standard of a successful cancer cure and apparently there is a season of the year (December) to “honor” five-year cancer survivors as articles about several of these celebrations have recently dropped into Crabby Old Lady's email inbox.
Now, doing some light homework for this blog post, she has discovered that in June each year there is a National Cancer Survivors Day, “a celebration for those who have survived.”
Crabby would be ecstatic to be one of those people but her life hasn't turned out that way. Her two new cancers are incurable. And as you must have expected from the headline, here goes Crabby Old Lady again being a Grinch.
[Unpaid family and friend caregivers deserve respect too (not to mention some effective regulations about leave from work, etc.) but today is about professional caregivers.]
So. Honor the survivors? Give Crabby a break. It's fantastic when that five-year anniversary arrives and it should probably involve an over-the-top, joyous, hoot-and-hollerin' celebration with the survivor, along with his or her family and friends. But publicly “honoring” them?
When they should have been honored was during the months, maybe years of treatment. It's damned hard to be a cancer patient. Surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, things that go wrong like Crabby's internal bleeds that required two more surgeries, pain, fatigue like you've never experienced before, keeping track of all the medications and more.
Celebrations back then might have given patients encouragement when they most needed it as they wondered, too often, if they just should have skipped all the interim stuff and died sooner.
That's when the honoring of patients would mean something - for following all the instructions and doing it stoically. Well, for the most part. Sometimes you just need to have a good cry.
But the first people Crabby honors, above all the patients, are the professional cancer caregivers. All of them, from celebrated surgeons who get so much attention, through the RNs, CNAs, medical assistants, schedulers and coordinators and all the rest of them.
At the top levels, physicians, nurses and their assistants (the dozens Crabby Old Lady has spoken with about their careers during her 18 months of regular visits with them) CHOSE to make their careers with cancer patients.
Think of that: they made a conscious decision to spend their working life with people who, most of them, die in a relatively short period of time.
Patients and caregivers get to know one another over that time. They exchange personal information unrelated to cancer. They don't become friends exactly, but they do become friendly with warm feelings for one another: “Hey Sean,” Crabby might say to a medical assistant when she arrives, one who had been previously assigned to her. “How are you doing?” Or “Hi Nancy. Good to see you again.” High fives all around.
She gets the same in return from the caregivers as she walks by their desks. And by name. How many of us do they keep in mind?
Imagine what it is like for them when all too often and not unexpectedly, they get word that one of their patients has died. If you think it is hard for laymen like Crabby and you to grieve for loved ones, it doesn't happen but a fraction of the time it does for cancer caregivers.
And yet, they choose this work and they are universally wonderful people in all respects – different in their essence than other people.
As Crabby or Ronni has said before, every single one is smart, knowledgeable in their field, warm, comforting, friendly and as far as Crabby can tell, never has a bad day. They never, ever bring their personal problems to work – at least not with patients.
Yes, Crabby herself has worked hard following instructions to get through her treatment – sometimes awful stuff – questioning not infrequently if it isn't time to stop and let the disease take its course. But these men and women keep Crabby going as if it really matters to them – and it does, manifestly.
These are the people Crabby Old Lady honors first above herself and other patients. They are different in the best possible way from the rest of us. Maybe it's in their genes.