I wrote this article for MD Anderson’s Cancerwise blog. You can view it here.
“Your field vision test hasn’t shown any improvement. There’s a possibility that the vision impairment is permanent. Your eye pressure was extremely high for days before you came in, and there’s no telling how long it was symptomatic before you even noticed. We can give you another week to strategize a plan for work, but I don’t think an extra week is going to help at all.”
Paralyzed by the thought of permanence, I sat quietly in a borrowed chair as I tried my best to filter the words of Dr. Esmaeli, the ophthalmologist at MD Anderson.
The room was void of light but full of heavy anticipation. I could see well enough to recognize that the five other people in the ophthalmology room were staring right at me. It was my turn to respond, but I couldn’t speak.
I was enrolled in a clinical trial designed to combat a mutation that prevented all FDA-approved medication from working. What I originally believed to be a migraine headache was actually a toxic response to the trial drug.
My vision was cloudy and blurry for days. Clinically, my optic nerves were swollen, with no guarantee that I’d ever experience 20/20 vision again.
As seconds converted to a lifetime of memories, my brain did all of the talking. Like a pre-packaged movie, my thoughts projected an altered life of shattered dreams.
I flashed forward to the blurred vision of a child anxiously anticipating whether the baseball he’d just thrown would reach his father’s glove. I saw an unrecognizable life with countless struggles and limited solutions.
My thoughts displayed a trailer for a dramatic documentary about the perils of antagonistic concessions and lost hope.
I imagine that those visions of a lost or altered future are recorded at birth, cued to play at the convergence of bad news. I recently heard a newly diagnosed leukemia patient explore her fears of broken dreams.
Through her words, she projected that it wasn’t the diagnosis itself that delivered the weight of heavy emotions, it was the thought of not fulfilling the visions she always imagined that was the cancer’s venom.
Hope is organic
The good news is that the human spirit is programmed to guard against cancer-producing fears. Hope has created an imaginary buffer zone between our physical state of being and the dreams that we hold closest to our hearts.
It’s not until the diagnosis begins to invade the latter that the effects of chemotherapy really start to take their toll.
Hope is one of the most powerful four-letter words in the world. Whether we hope for a good prognosis, a life free of heartache, or to experience true, unconditional love, one thing remains the same — hope is organic.
Every human being is predisposed to a resilient belief that, one day, the visions of their heart will be reconciled with reality. Hope is not something we acquire, like the complexities of language or human interaction. It’s interwoven into the fabric of our DNA.
When my brain slowed down and the hope of fulfilling the life I had always wanted resurfaced, I stumbled through a gauntlet of words, hoping that I’d somehow be able to translate an accurate disposition.
I was terrified of a new reality, but my mind latched onto optimism like a transient to a train destined for the land of possibility, where hope shines like the beauty of a sunrise.
My vision improved as the intraocular swelling subsided. If I’m lucky, I’ll one day fulfill a simple dream of playing catch with my children like I did with my father. I’ll get to enjoy the vibrant colors and nuances of the world the way they were created. More importantly, I’ll always have the hope to bridge the gaps.
Aristotle once said, “Hope is the dream of a waking man.” As long as hope is alive, our dreams are alive. As long as our dreams are alive, we are alive. And as long as we are alive, we are victorious over cancer. No diagnosis has the power, in and of itself, to ever take that away.