I remember fondly a very gracious and brave woman. She was in her late fifties and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. The wideness of her teeth, and the gum line combined with her beautiful lips just made her very eloquent.
She was always a very focused woman, so after she was diagnosed with cancer and once she was over the mourning phase, she was ready to go ahead and deal with the situation as it came. So eventually she underwent removal of her breast and reconstruction. She was always very happy and pleased with how things were progressing.
One year later when her reconstruction was complete I discharged her from my care. I knew that I would see her back, maybe on a yearly basis for a follow up. So she said goodbye with a big hug and I didn’t see her until a year later. At that time she was making good progress and I told her I’d see her back in another year and advised her to keep smiling.
After this I didn’t see her for a couple of years and then one day she shows up in my office, as usual, looking very calm and poised with the same beautiful smile with which she greeted me. And I asked her, “How are things going?” and she said, “Things are going fine, I just thought I should come in for my routine follow checkup.” So we exchanged some pleasantries and then after the examination I said, “Well, is there anything I can do for you?”
She just suddenly became quiet and said, “Well there is one thing I haven’t told you, doctor. During my last checkup with my oncologist, he told me that the cancer has spread to my bones.” And after this she had a full workup done and that showed that it was also present in the liver, and the outlook wasn’t very bright at that time. The doctor had told her that she probably had six months to live.
While she was telling me this, there was no pain or stress in her face, she was still calm. I was in a state of shock to hear this, because when she first entered the room she gave no sign of any such thing. Then she said to me, “Doctor, I’ve had a full life, I was very blessed to have a good husband and I’ve raised good kids. I love my kids and they love me. But out of all of this situation what stresses me the most, is that if I am to leave this world in the time frame that the doctor is telling me, it will probably be near Christmas, and I’d really hate to ruin the Christmas for my children.”
Again I was stunned. I was motionless. I was just staring at her in trance, speechless. I could not believe that a woman who is about to depart from this world in a few months, is not worried about herself at all, and all she cares about is the happiness of her children.
On top of that she still had the same glow in her face with the same beautiful smile. After this she stood up, gave me a big hug and walked away. I really didn’t know what to say to her. A few months down the road I got a phone call from her family telling me that she had died on Christmas Eve.
Every year, on Christmas Eve, I think about the same brave patient with the best smile in the whole world. In that smile there was always a message of hope and courage, fear and concern. It was the love of a mother, whose greatest concern, in the end, was about her children.