Love Is The Strongest Medicine: Notes from a Cancer Doctor on Connection, Creativity, and Compassion

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Rumi said, "The cure for pain is in the pain."

The way out is through.

The way out of cancer is through cancer.

By bringing love, light, and presence to cancer.

To the suffering it causes.

How can I bring love to cancer?

Every day?

As oncologists, we lead the fight against cancer.

It is what the chemo does. Attack. Fight. Kill the bad cells.

Cancer was pissing me off.

My patient said to me, “Dr. E, I see your pain. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not G-d. You don’t get to choose who gets sick, or even who gets better. But if you measure your worth by who lives and who dies, this job is going to kill you. Dr. E, we all surrender in the end. Can you bring love to your suffering?”

I tried it on as if I was trying on a new suit.

I took a breath and said, “I bring love to my suffering.”

Something amazing happened at that moment.

My anger dissipated and my body relaxed as I felt a wave of peace come over me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I said it again and again.

"I bring love to my suffering. I bring love to my stress, to my patients living with cancer, to cancer itself, to my whole self."

At that moment, I realized that one of the hardest things doctors -- and all of us -- have to accept is our ultimate powerlessness over death.

My eyes filled with tears as I felt my humanness coming back. And looking at my patient, I felt something that had been missing from my life and my work for a year -- connection.

Connection to my patients and connection with myself.

Connection is the best medicine.

Not only did I mysteriously experience less suffering, but the connection with this patient changed the way I was being with the rest of my patients.

I became more present with each and every patient, helping them cultivate the joy in their lives in spite of their cancer.

And an amazing thing happened -- my patients transformed from being "people living with cancer" to "people who are gifts."