He ranted and raved uncontrollably. He suddenly turned to me and said “Why me? ” My reply was “Why not you? What makes you think that you are more special than the next person? ” This confrontational response stopped him in his tracks, made him think about his situation and the anger and feeling sorry for himself disappeared, never to return again. Too often patients with incurable diseases surrender to all the negative emotions that overwhelm them. They become despondent, depressed, fearful and lose hope. All their time is spent fixating on themselves and their wellbeing.
They become so focused on their problem that the problem can become their whole world. Patients then get caught in a vicious circle whereby the harder they try not to worry, the more they worry. The greater the effort not to think of their problems, the more they think about them. Without meaning in these patient’s lives, how do they mentally ensure quality of life? How do they make peace, emotionally and spiritually, with the situation they find themselves in? There is sufficient proof that everything can be taken from man except the choice of one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.
Inner freedom, which cannot be taken away, makes life meaningful and purposeful. My husband and I met with the oncologist and found out what treatment was required to push the cancer into remission. We decided to put our trust in the oncologist’s ability to treat this disease while we concentrated on living each day with love, humour and purpose. In effect we were practicing dereflection. Looking back now at the chemotherapy he had to endure, on and off, over a seven year period, I realise that disease/illness can be very meaningful.
The chemotherapy room was a morbid place, where everyone sat quietly, lost in their own thoughts, with a chemo drip in their arm. My husband changed all that. He got to know all the patients and medical staff. He used humour to get people to open up about their situations. He would have me running around serving tea, coffee and cake to the patients. He instilled a feeling of hope and caring amongst the patients. They took an interest in one another’s lives, exchanged useful information, joked and laughed about themselves and their illness plus friendships were formed.
The doctor often came to check what all the noise was about in the chemotherapy room. I believe this was my husband’s purpose during this period of his life. It was filled with meaning as were the lives of the patients whom he came to know and love. In 2001 the cancer came back aggressively and my husband had to have heavy doses of chemotherapy that almost destroyed his body. He was hospitalised and almost overnight lost so much weight. He was sent home weighing 49 kilograms and so weak that he became bedridden. He didn’t have the strength to walk or to sit up in bed.
He began to feel humiliated and degraded due to the fact that he couldn’t do anything for himself. He thought that he had become a burden on me and together with a loss of dignity, he became very depressed. He believed that he would be totally helpless for the rest of his life. The loss of hope and meaning can have a deadly effect. Without faith and belief in the future the patient loses his spiritual hold and allows himself to decline by becoming subject to mental and physical decay. Total despair sets in and all the patient sees is a meaningless existence.
To provoke patients to find meaning in their lives, the logotherapist must have a deep commitment for the uniqueness and dignity of each individual. The therapist must focus on the specific needs of individual patients instead of using a fact or technique valid for one situation, to make conclusions about a different situation. During my husband’s depression he tried to commit suicide but fortunately was stopped before he could commit the deed. I phoned Hospice for help. They sent a wonderful woman who came on a regular basis to chat and deal with my husband’s emotional needs.
Meals were no longer served in bed. I carried him to the dining room table so that he could eat with the rest of the family. He had practically given up eating so I became more forceful about getting him to eat. On a daily basis I exercised his arms and legs. Hospice arranged for a wheelchair and if we went anywhere as a family, my husband came along. Together we set goals for him to achieve, baby steps as we called them, the first being the building up of his strength. We did a lot of laughing and some crying during this time. His depression disappeared and he started ooking forward to each day. He eventually managed to walk again much to his and the family’s delight. On his first visit to his oncologist after being bedridden, he was nicknamed “The Miracle Man” by the medical staff. Unfortunately my husband passed away in January 2005. Reading the account of Frankl’s story of the old general practitioner who suffered with depression after his wife died has given me much comfort. Frankl used a form of the Socratic dialogue and asked the practitioner what would have happened if he rather than his wife had died first.
He answered, “How she would have suffered. ” I can relate to this story in so far that my husband would have suffered if I had died first. I have spared him this suffering and that is very meaningful to me. There are various methods or techniques a therapist can use to assist their patients to find meaning in their lives. There is the “parable method” which is suited to some patients whereby the therapist relates a parable or tells a story which illustrates the point that no human being is exempt from illness.
There is dereflecting as well as the Socratic dialogue Here is something I came across by an unknown author which can be applied to many diseases and which my husband and I found very inspirational during the period that he had lymphoma. WHAT CANCER CANNOT DO Cancer is so limited…………………….. It cannot cripple love It cannot shatter hope It cannot corrode faith It cannot destroy peace It cannot kill friendship It cannot suppress memories It cannot silence courage It cannot invade the soul It cannot steal eternal life It cannot conquer spirit