Unprepared” by Jerry Groopman

“Unprepared” Response Paper “Unprepared” by Jerry Groopman, tells the story of a patient whom Dr. Groopman encountered when he was still in Medical school. “Unprepared” refers to his own inexperience as a medical practitioner and the possible missteps he took in his interaction with this patient. The patient’s name was Esther Weinberg , a twenty-nine year old Orthodox Jewish woman. Upon learning of their shared faith, Ester confides in Groopman a shameful secret involving her own infidelity and her belief that her cancer is a punishment from God that has been visited on her because of her sins.

The affair was an outgrowth of a loveless marriage and an unhappy life. Esther now feels bereft of all hope; she believes her cancer is deserved and because she has no hope of changing her circumstances she lacks the motivation to fight the disease. After undergoing surgery for the cancer she continues to vacillate between accepting treatment to extend her life and accepting the cancer as a death sentence – the result of a “justice … with stern …codes of conduct, that when violated…triggers retribution” .. (Groopman 10).

In the end, she reluctantly and with some delay accepts the treatment prescribed by her doctors, but she loses the battle and dies. I used to be a very pessimistic person; no matter what the situation I would dwell on only the negative. My mother would say that my “cup was half empty” rather than half full. The spring of my Junior year in High School this all changed. It was my during my Junior year that I met Ashley. I remember the day I first saw her- a little blonde girl with a pink bow in her hair walking across the field towards my Lacrosse team clutching her mother’s hand.

We had been told that her name was Ashley Jacobs, an adorable girl with brain cancer. She has been battling it her whole life and my coach thought it would be nice to “adopt” her as a member of our team. From the minute I met her, we had an instant bond and became very close. What I believe drew me to her so quickly was her positive outlook on life. Everyday she came to our Lacrosse practices, games, and dinners with a huge smile on her face. She was so happy and positive about life even though her prognosis was not good. We had all been told that the chances of her making it to high school were slim.

All I could think about was how someone could be so happy and positive when her life consists of a daily struggle to stay alive. Still, she loved coming to our practices! If she felt up to it, she would be there. Every day during practice I’d look for Ashley’s little blond head with the pink bow in her hair as she ran across the field. When she wasn’t there I worried. I wondered if she was OK, if she would make it tomorrow. But then she’d come back, always the same happy, carefree little girl I had come to love. Although Ashley is a very hopeful and enthusiastic girl, she also had her low days.

When she would get sick and have to go to the hospital, she was sad to miss school, a play date with friends, a lacrosse practice with us…Sometimes she would be weak and have to stay in bed for days. But Ashley never lacked company. Sometimes girls from the team and I would go over with cookies and crafts and spend time with her. Her family and friends would usually be there. We’d encourage her to keep fighting and remind her of all the fun things she would do when she got better. Her friends and family gave her hope; hope that if she listened to her doctors that one day she would get better and be able to live a full and happy life.

Today Ashley is doing fantastic. She is happy and as healthy as can be. We still talk on the phone and although we don’t get to see each other as much, we are still very close. Reading “Unprepared” made me recognize the importance of having hope. Without hope for a better life the patient has no reason to battle the cancer. Ironically the only respite Esther found in her former life was the affair. It was the only thing that made her feel like she was not suffocating: “to be desired was enough for her to feel that she was not suffocating” (Groopman 6). She knew that without her breasts she would no longer be desired.

There would be nothing left for her to go back to. Esther also had no support to encourage her to fight. Having to undergo side effects that accompany chemotherapy is awful enough but to have to battle the disease alone, without people to confide in and for support would be impossible. Esther didn’t even have the support of her children because they didn’t even know she was sick. “You see my life,’ Esther said. ‘Everything is hidden. Even what’s wrong with me can’t be spoken’” (Groopman 10). Esther had no support from her family because her family didn’t even know about the pain she was suffering.

Also because Esther believed that the cancer was retribution from a righteous God, Esther “sees her cancer as some sort of divine judgment” (Groopman 11). Esther was without hope; without hope of recovery, without hope that could be given to her by a supportive family, and without hope of ever living a happy life. It’s sad that Esther didn’t have the support system Ashley did. At the end of the reading, Groopman states that “hope can flourish only when you believe that what you do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present” (Groopman 13).

Ashley and her friends and family possess a strong hope for a cure and a better day. A hope of a bright future for a remarkable little girl with a big smile and a positive attitude. I will always believe that the support Ashley receives helps her heal and to continue to be the healthy vibrant girl she is today. Ashley always reminds me to keep hope alive, and to try to remind myself to be positive, because hope for a better day is always possible.