When You Witness Suffering

There is so very much to this journey called cancer – so much more that I want to write about and simply haven’t yet had the time between working full time, running back and forth to chemo, and simply still trying to maintain some sense of normalcy now that we live on the other side of the looking glass. With such limited time, it’s hard to decide what to share with you each week. This week, I want to share something that happened this week in the chemo lab.

Mostly, I’ve been positive but let’s face it – while life is good (GREAT in fact), cancer sucks. And sometimes, being human, I get a little blue. But, it seems like each time I’m ready to dissolve into a personal pity party, something happens that not only totally puts my life back in perspective, but reminds me how lucky I am and how truly blest I am on this journey.

This week was week 5 of chemo. I still have to work (insurance baby!) and as is my practice, I take my laptop and work for 3-4 hours while I’m there. I shoed Cotton off to run errands in town and settled down into the “routine.” Now, I’m truly doing great. Yes, I have side effects from the chemo but they’re manageable and I’ve been doing a real good job (most days anyway) of ignoring the fact that cancer is a part of my life. As you can imagine, there are lots of people in the chemo lab. Some, like me, are doing really well – but others, are really, truly genuinely ill. This chemo day, there was a lady across from me who wasn’t doing well – not in mind, body or spirit.

The Suffering of Esperanza

The Suffering of Esperanza

I don’t know the woman’s name but have decided to call her Esperanza because the word means “hope” in Spanish – and hope, and peace – are what I pray for her. Esperanza was obviously terribly ill. Her face was etched with such an incredible profound amount of pain and genuine, bone weary suffering that I’ve rarely witnessed in my life. The nurses were incredibly attentive, kind, and gentle with her. (That’s one thing I can most definitely say about the oncology nurses, they are all candidates for sainthood – very caring individuals.) There is no privacy in the chemo lab and so if you suffer, if you’re ill, it’s a public event. It’s not that you’re eavesdropping on anyone – it’s just that unless you have headphones on, there’s no way you can avoid seeing and hearing what’s going on.

It was quickly apparent that Esperanza was not only terribly ill but in horrific pain. The nurses were pushing pain meds to try to give her some relief and assuring her that the doctor was getting her a bed in the hospital and they’d move her as soon as they could. It was then that my heart broke. Esperanza was there alone and I soon learned that her suffering was deeper than just the ravages of chemo and cancer. She began sharing with the nurse the things her husband had said to her that morning – cruel things, hurtful things, things that frankly, no one should say to any other human being at any time, but especially not when facing an illness the magnitude of cancer. I won’t share in this forum what was said but trust me, it was heart-wrenching and sickening, and it wasn’t the first time he’d said such things.

It broke my heart and I wept – wept for her cancer, wept for the cruelty she was being subjected to, wept that it was nurses who took held her hand and carried her to the hospital and not someone who loved and cherished her, wept for the suffering that I now understood to be much more than a simple illness of the body. It’s rare to see someone stripped bare and their wounds exposed. I found myself wanting to do something, anything, to make it better. And, there was nothing to be done. At the end, all I could do is pray (and have continued to do so) she’ll find healing of mind, body and spirit.
Witnessing her suffering brought home just how blest I am. I really have never been subjected to that level of suffering – not in all the years I’ve had MS and not even now with this cancer. Anything my body has inflicted on me is temporary – a bump in the road – a slice of negative space – an inconvenience which either passes or which I know will pass soon. I thank God for that. I’m also surrounded by people – Cotton, Rebekah, and so many, many family and friends – that I’m constantly lifted up in prayer and surrounded by a sure and certain love everywhere I turn. I am blest. After witnessing Esperanza’s suffering, I’ll never take the blessings that I’ve been given in this journey for granted.

So tonight, my prayer is that when you pray for me, you also pray for the woman I call Esperanza who will forever be the face of suffering to me. And, tonight, I thank each of you for the constant love and care and concern and attention you’ve showered upon me. I know that I can win this battle – not because of any great courage that I possess – but because I know that you have my back and are holding up my hands when I can no longer do so. I love you guys and I love that you’ve chosen to be on this journey with me.

© 2013 Mary Kyle. All rights reserved.

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3 comments on “When You Witness Suffering
  1. mleew2052 says:

    praying for Esperanza — and you! Love, ~Lee

    • bsims1 says:

      Mary: Your article touched my heart….tears for Esperanza. God is with her he knows and understands her physical and emotional pain he will see her through as we pray. Thanks for sharing this story!

      • Mary Kyle says:

        Hi Ben… For some reason, none of the comments showed up until now! I will never forget Esperanza. I have tried to find out what happened to her and still pray for her now.