Friday, April 18, 2014

Hopes and Dreams

At 16, your whole life should be in front of you.  Your thoughts should be on your hopes and dreams for the future.  Thinking of what school to go to become a pilot, teacher, or engineer, or maybe thinking of your wedding day and the dress you will wear, of being a wife and a mother, maybe it is both.  Those dreams and hopes are for most kids at 16, but they aren't for Stella.
Stella is a beautiful young girl from the remote part of the Jimi Valley, a place not easily accessed and even further away from good health care.  For the past number of months she has been having swelling of her stomach and back, and losing weight.  She has been unable to walk, to sit up by herself or to go the bathroom by herself because she is so weak.
After a number of months of being sick, her family finally made their way to Nazarene Hospital to seek treatment.  The admitting doctor told me about this young girl who he was afraid had cancer, and asked if I could see her.  Once I located her bed on the ward, the first thing I noticed was this huge head of hair and this enormous smile, that radiated from her face.  I was instantly drawn in, my guard protecting my heart was off, and I sat down to find out more about her. 
As we talked and I examined her, I was disappointed that it was too late.  The swelling was cancer and has taken over her whole abdomen, causing swelling on her back and spine, which has caused some paralysis.  Due to her immobility, she has developed bedsores.  Laying in any one position for too long, puts pressure on her skin and over time, it has broken down causing sores, that aren't easily healed. 
Our cancer options are limited as it is, and now faced with an unknown cancer that has taken over this girl's body, I knew I couldn't cure her, but looking at her, I didn't want to tell her there was nothing to offer her.  She was so young, so beautiful, she should have her whole life in front of her, and yet, there wasn't anything I could do to change her body from succumbing to this cancer.  I managed to tell her we didn't have anything to fix her and could only offer her medicine to help with the pain, which she seemed to understand.  Then, I pulled up the guard, that had fallen down from around my heart with her smile, and told them the best thing for them to do was to go home and to be near family until the end.  They smiled, polite as can be, and said, "Okay doctor."  We prayed and I went onto the next patient. 
The next day, as I got to the ward, I was drawn to Stella, who wasn't on my side, who I wasn't supposed to see.  Her smile hit me before I even got to her bed, radiating over the sheet she had wrapped around her, and once again, the guard around my heart was down.  I sat down and just talked to her, asking about school and if they went to church.  In a combination of English and Pidgin, we talked.  I asked them if they wanted to go home, "No." was the answer.  I knew I couldn't ask again. 
So now each morning on rounds, I just go and talk to Stella, making sure her pain is managed okay, adjusting medicines as needed.  I brought her some books to read to pass the time, which is mostly spent turning from side to back to side to stomach to sitting up every few hours to try and help the sores go away and prevent new ones from coming.   I am not sure when Stella will go home, whether to the Jimi Valley or to heaven.  Everyday I pray that God might heal her, but then I am somewhat stuck, because He doesn't heal everyone, and how do I communicate with this 16 yo girl, the reality of today, of her cancer, of tomorrow?
I am pretty sure she knows the reality, pretty sure she understands that she is dying, so I try not to talk about it because, in all honestly, I don't really know what to tell her.  As we have talked, I almost asked her what she wants to do when she grows up, it was on my tongue, but then I stopped myself, because she won't grow up, whatever she wanted to be, she will never live long enough to become.  Her hopes and dreams will remain just that, hopes and dreams and yet, somehow despite all of that she smiles with a huge enormous smile and has torn down the walls to my heart and has drawn me in and given me encouragement and hope. 

As Easter approaches, I am reminded that today is not the end, there is Hope of another life after this one.  Thankfully, Stella knows the one who died for her that we remember this Friday.  Pray that she too, maybe filled with joy, even as she is afraid of what is to come, just as the women at the tomb were when the angel spoke to them.  "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay. . . So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy and ran to tell his disciples." Matt 28:5-8