A few years ago I came across a story in The New Yorker
that was so powerful that it felt as if it seared itself into my brain. “The Aquarium
,” by Aleksander Hemon, describes the author’s experience of losing a daughter to a brain tumor, and the retelling is so heartrending and the writing so eloquent that I felt scarred after reading the piece.
Mr. Hemon’s writing illuminated several aspects of the cancer experience:
How patients and families sometimes break their lives into “before and after” a cancer diagnosis
How parents face the death of a child
How patients and families may not want a lot of information about the diagnosis or treatment, as a means of protecting themselves from information that is too painful to bear
One of the most poignant aspects of the article was the sense of isolation felt by the child’s father:
“One early morning, driving to the hospital, I saw a number of able-bodied, energetic runners progressing along Fullerton Avenue toward the sunny lakefront, and I had a strong physical sensation of being in an aquarium: I could see out, the people outside could see me (if they chose to pay attention), but we were living and breathing in entirely different environments. Isabel’s illness and our experience of it had little connection to, and even less impact on, their lives.”
The sense of isolation the father experienced, the feeling that he was in a parallel universe separate from the general population, may or may not be articulated by patients during therapy, but the effects of feeling apart from others is not uncommon among cancer patients.
There were many elements of this article that I found very thought-provoking, and I was wondering if you have come across an article or book that impacted you strongly, or that you found helpful in understanding some aspect of the cancer experience. If so, please share with other readers through my Twitter account @drsusankrigel
, or comment on this post on the Oncology Nursing News