“Reveling in Present Puts Suffering In Its Place"
Delvyn C. Case
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000
Dr. Delvyn C. Case, Jr. practiced clinical hematology/oncology for thirty-two years and is now consultant to the Department of Spiritual Services at the Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine. He has had articles of religion and medicine published in a number of national magazines and is a regular contributor to the Reflections column of the Portland Press Herald. He has won a number of writing awards and is a previous Amy Writing Award winner. Dr. Case is also Director of Drama Ministry, First Baptist Church, Portland, Maine where he has produced a number of one-act and full-length plays that he has written. He has had a number of plays selected for festivals and produced in different theaters. Several of his plays have been published by Drama Source.
While examining a patient in my office, I heard boisterous laughter coming from the hallway. It sounded like Joy. Glancing down at my list of patients, I noted Joy's name at the end of the morning session. She insisted being the last patient in the morning so she and her two sisters could do lunch after her appointment.
Exiting the examining room, I peeked around the corner and observed that Joy and her two sisters had commandeered the scale from the nurse and were weighing each other. “It's how we decide what restaurant to eat in—how many pounds we can afford to gain,” she had quipped to me months earlier.
Once in the examining room with Joy and her sisters, they quizzed me about the trendy new restaurants in Portland and invited me to escort them to their choice. During further friendly banter, Joy reminded me they had seen yogurt and a banana on my desk. “That's my lunch,” I retorted, “It’s easy going down while doing paper work.” Joy chastised me, “Lasagna's a more complete lunch.” Though tempted, I declined her gracious invitation with a smile. Turning toward medical issues Joy recounted what she had done during the four weeks since her last appointment, including dealing with her dad daily in the nursing home and her mother's loneliness at home.
It was always a pleasure to see Joy in the office because of her example of living with cancer or any other serious illness or condition: she lived her life to the fullest while putting her cancer to the side as much as possible. Joy was fully engaged with activities that consumed her time throughout the week—her parent's problems being only the beginning. “I'm too busy to think about being sick,” she insisted. “I live as though the cancer's not there. Try to. I keep going until I get knocked down, like with the chemo each month or my blood counts. Otherwise I forget about it.”
Persistent anxiety and worry have been shown in scientific studies to produce chronic stress that weakens the immune system and may reduce responses to treatment and shorten life. “Life keeps me going. It keeps me from worrying,” she nodded when I encouraged her about her strategy of living. “Worrying about illness—my illness--would kill me if I let it.”
Jesus knew about worrying. During the first year of His public ministry, Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6: 27, 34). These words were spoken when Jesus was at the height of his popularity. Soon public opinion would turn against Him. Jesus was aware (and prophecies foretold) of His looming suffering and death in two years. He mentioned this future to His disciples on occasion yet was not consumed by it. He actively preached and traveled throughout Judea and Galilee speaking truths with boundless energy until He was betrayed and arrested.
Joy knew about worrying. Joy was aware of the future regarding her illness and it was not good. There was much to worry about such as the limited survival in many cases of her form of cancer and the complications of the illness when it progressed. Suffering was very possible. Nevertheless Joy lived in each “present healthy moment,” rather than each “future sick moment” as she described her attitude.
After evaluating Joy and handing her the treatment plan for her intravenous chemo, Joy reminded me the next appointment would have to be delayed a week. “Usually the three of us go to Foxwoods. But once a year we take mom to Vegas. She needs to get away. So do we.” With a laugh, Joy told me she and her sisters did not like to take mom with them on gambling trips “because she's the only one who wins and won't tell us how she does it.”
As she exited the examining room, she whispered coyly to me, “We'll drop off a piece of lasagna for you. You don't eat enough for lunch!”
Printed March 12, 2011; Portland Press Herald; Portland, ME.
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