A Life I Could Not Save She did not feel her age though she was old, But still looked young as she was often told. And so she was a vibrant 95, Happy to be healthy and alive. And yet this cancer slowly had appeared, A diagnosis worse than she had feared, A stark intrusion in a peaceful life; Now filled with fear, uncertainty and strife. I truly understood her fragile state And yet could not abandon her to fate. So radiation seemed the treatment choice As I spoke with an optimistic voice. Regrettably this gave her no relief And so her pain improvement was but brief. I tried my best to help her understand Treatments that her age might not withstand. So we embarked upon an operation; Strong in our resolve, not desperation. Hoping to alleviate her plight. Hoping that our chosen path was right. We planned each detail, each step we would take And all of the dissection we would make. Our anesthesia colleagues also knew That potential complications might ensue. So here we were combined in our intent, Knowing what success or failure meant. But willing to attempt this for her sake As this procedure we did undertake. The surgery initially went well But then quickly her blood pressure fell. And despite our efforts to restore her breath, All had to finally accept her death. So what to make of this, did we do wrong? Should we have let her suffering prolong? Could we ignore her misery and pain? How could we know our efforts were in vain? Her sudden death of course was unexpected, And certainly we all felt quite dejected. We did our best to help this woman through, But could not change events that would ensue. I've thought about this patient many times, Wondering if I had missed the signs That would have clearly pushed me to pursue A different course than what we chose to do. As I experience doubt and regret, I move on with my daily life and yet My memories of this woman linger on, Never from my recollection gone. This is a burden I agreed to bear, A knowing part of what it is to care. And so I take these memories to my grave Concerning those whose lives I could not save. Almost Cancer Today I met a man who thought that he was truly dying. This brush with his mortality had left him lost and crying. He never really understood how fragile life can be, And now his hopes and desperation focused square on me. I had a kindly conversation with him and his wife. I guaranteed that I would do my best to save his life. I reassured him that this tumor might still be benign. If not we hoped that we had caught it in the nick of time. Next day I gave him his good news, that it was nothing bad. He and his wife were quite relieved and yet they both seemed sad. They looked back at their lives and saw so many wasted years. They smoked too much and drank too much and cried too many tears. That day that he thought he was gone was really quite a gift. It made him see that up ‘til then his life was just adrift. Although I never had to work a wonder with a knife, That day was not forgotten and in fact it saved his life. Childhood Cancer Survivor I saw her back, now 28 and mother of 2 boys, And yet at our first visit her mom brought along her toys. What miracle had happened that enabled her to live, And now allowed her to go forth with all she has to give? I knew how bravely she approached this horrible disease, Balancing her hopes and fears as if on a trapeze. Suffering in silence. Looking older than her age. Amazing that this youngster had the wisdom of a sage. Even on the darkest days she always had a smile. An inner strength to look beyond and always know that while Life seemed so unpleasant, it would hopefully change course. Emanating fortitude from some unknown resource. But now she seemed just quite content with all things as they are, Leaving prior ugliness and pain behind her far. Proud of what she had become more than what she went through. Able to appreciate her world as few can do. I understood this was a moment I was blessed to see, A victory for her more than a victory for me. So any time I wonder what my life is all about, I recall her serenity which then removes all doubt. Richard Lackman is an orthopaedic cancer surgeon and poet.