A Buddhist and Her Cancer

I heard about Sandra in whispers at the nurses station, before meeting her face to face. “Such a lovely woman,” they would say in hushed, sorrowful tones. “Such a tragic story.” Sandra was my patient during my night shift rotation, meaning she was one of nearly fifty souls for whom, between sunset and sunrise, I addressed all complaints and crises.

Sandra, in all her loveliness, never had either.

I first met Sandra on my fifth night of being her overnight doctor. Her nurse called me around 2AM to report she was experiencing pain after a daytime procedure and needed some extra medication for relief. I reviewed the basics of her story before going to see her—a middle-aged woman with a new diagnosis of colon cancer and a few months to live—and expected to enter a room full of sadness, anticipated a pair of empty eyes.

Instead, I arrived to find a frail but grinning woman curled up in a bright red fleece blanket, surrounded by piles of books and beads that she was methodically, almost joyfully weaving into bracelets. The chair at her bedside was void of friend or family, but she seemed unbothered by this solitude. Continue reading →