Her son was feeding her like she was a little baby. A hospital cafeteria-issued tuna fish sandwich sat atop a soggy swatch of cellophane on the palm of his left hand. In his right was a butter knife that he used to excise tiny chunks of the sandwich. As I entered the room, he proudly gestured to the remaining portion of the sandwich and communicated reassuringly in broken English that he would keep working hard on getting the whole sandwich into his mother. He was part of our team, and his job, he implied, was to contribute to the project of healing his dying mother by nourishing her with love and calories.

She was a 70-year-old Cantonese-speaking woman with aggressive ovarian cancer. She had been receiving hopeful chemotherapy from her oncologist, but it clearly hadn’t been working. On her most recent clinic visit, she had become so critically ill that her doctor had abruptly admitted her to the ICU for stabilization, withholding chemotherapy, to the family’s consternation.

Until recently, the cancer had lived quietly inside her, preparing its attack slowly and without raising too much alarm. This time, though, it had risen up like a guerrilla army to fight its final, multi-front battle. Fluid around her lungs squeezed like the worst kind of corset so that every breath exhausted her. Cancerous fronds curled around her intestines, distending her abdomen and further compromising her breathing.

And so she lay there, barely able to breathe, intestines obstructed and bursting, every line on her face reading defeat. (…) Read Full Article Here

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