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CancerLynx - we prowl the net
December 9, 2002

Talking To A Stone
M. J. McKeown, MD, FACOG, FACS

This figure, this person, this dispenser of life and death is in control of your life - your physician.

You are ill and truly in the fight for your life. Job, children, future plans, finances, and just the job of getting up each morning are events of mountainous dimensions.

And then how to approach this immutable mountain that issues edicts on your future?

You search for support and search for more and more information on this enemy that has sprung into your life. The enemy has a feared name and it is CANCER!

You learn to look for information on your enemy in this immense, but poorly structured, fount of information, the internet. You are fortunate to find websites to give you information and ideas and access links to more information. You winnow through the pathways of electronic information and find a great deal that seems to apply to you. If you have more advanced disease with metastasis to various areas of your body you find the lists and begin to learn from others who have your problems. You collate your new information and gather questions to seek answers from this master of your therapeutic fate but how do you talk to a stone?

talking to a stone
i knock at the stone's door
- it's me, open up.
i'd like to come in

go away - says the stone
i'm closed

-i'm stone - says stone
out of necessity i maintain my gravity

wieslawa szymborska
translated by michael cygalski

It is not easy being the stone. The job requires having immense and fast changing amounts of information at one's quick recall. The job requires telling wonderful, scared people they have a terrible problem that may have no good solution. The job requires searching for the newest and most efficacious methods of attacking the problems that are brought to you. Hope and the possibility/probability of winning the battle are the banners you stand under. However as time passes and battles are lost and tears become an ocean defenses develop to maintain the stone. The access doors are plastered over with statistics. The eyes are filled with distance able to look through those in front of them. Touch acquires microsecond reflexes and retracts after the briefest of contacts. The voice timbre approaches the monotone of pronouncement without emotional involvement.

i knock at the stone's door
- it's me, open up
i heard there are great empty halls within,
unseen, beautiful to no avail,
mute, without echoes of anyone's steps
admit that you yourself know little of this

- great and empty halls - says the stone
yet without vacancy

my whole surface turns to you
yet my whole interior's turned away
wieslawa szymborska

So as the penitent coming to the mountain with reams of questions and information and wanting to discuss them how can you talk to this stone of self-preservation defenses?

Softly and slowly and respectfully are the keywords.

By gentleness the hardest heart may be softened.
But try to cut and polish it, and it will glow like
fire or freeze like ice.
Lao Tan

How in the world can you approach the problem with this stone, this caregiver softly when your anxiety level is somewhere above your head? You must learn to be softly in control of your destiny. You will likely bring in questions the caregiver has heard before and may tend to dismiss with short answers. When you bring information you have gathered from this immense unstructured internet you will likely be bringing information and questions the caregiver has not heard before and may tend to dismiss with short answers in order to maintain control. Once again the answer is softly.

An excellent initial approach would be to tell him/her you have a lot of time to look for information now and have found some items of information reference material. Tell him/her you realize they are the expert and you are not and that you would like a review and comment on the information you have found so you may begin to learn more about your problem and its possible solutions. You will be applying the ancient aphorism that honey draws more flies than vinegar. If the caregiver says they do not have the time to review the material reply that you are not asking for an immediate review right this instant but would be very willing to wait for a few days for answers. The caregiver, the stone knows that he/she does not know everything and that the job requires almost constant learning to stay current. If they are allowed time to read and digest the information you have brought at their leisure they may realize as they read that this is truly good new information or that the information is wrong. In any case correct information or incorrect information he/she will realize that this has helped the constant learning problem they have.

You have approached soflty, you have flattered status, you have implied the need for learning and evaluation and you have brought up the concept of becoming a partner in your care. Allow a few days to pass or if your next appointment is within a few days ask about comments on your information. If your inquiry is by telephone and the reply is by telephone give respectful thanks and ask if it would be alright if you continued to bring information to them for review. If your inquiry is at the time of another visit then thank them and touch them lightly to initiate further bonding of this partnership.

What is to be done if the stone remains a stone and you are unable to bring the relationship into a partnership? Once again softness and implied praise are the lead in but need to be followed by a firm statement that it would be with regret but you would find it necessary to seek new care if mutual communication cannot be established. If specialty care resources are limited where you live then you will have to factor this in to any decisions you make.

In short, this is your life and you need to feel at least the control of a partnership. You should seek this relationship.......

Ask me softly
Ask me with quiet eyes
And I will hear you
Tell me of your fears
Tell me of your finds
And I will listen
We will talk with each other
We will not talk at each other
And our minds will grow
I can learn
We can learn
And we will know
Be my knowledge finder
Be our knowledge finder
Our journey is together
Partners we
Springing free
Barbed foes no longer
We shall fight this foe
This common foe
Softly and on and on and on

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