After spending a number of weeks in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy to treat his leukemia a patient was able to go home and be with his family again. As he returned last week for another round of treatment he told me he found his time with his family somewhat unsettling. He was still a husband to his wife and a father to his young boys and yet it wasn’t the same as it had been before he was admitted to the hospital. He was so glad to see his boys but he couldn’t get down on the floor and rough house with them like he used to. He isn’t as physically strong as he was before he had his treatments. He has a compromised immune system and has to be more careful around young children who are often germ factories. So he is back home and yet he is not the person he was before he left home. He is now wondering who am I? How is this disease changing me and changing who I will be in the future?
As he returned for another round of treatment and put on the hospital gown he again finds himself struggling with his identity. As the doctors and nurses view him as a patient he wants them to know that he is also a person. He has a career. He has a family. He has a personality. He has hopes and dreams. So as he lies in his bed and continues his treatment process he wonders who will he be after this is all over? Will he work again? Will he be able to do what he used to do? Will he have to change professions? In all these ways he feels like his identity has been stolen from him.
Many of us can identify with his patient. In times of change in our lives we have found ourselves being pushed from one place to another. From the safety of our homes to the new world of going to school. From the safety of school to having to find a job and enter the work place. All of these times are times when our identity changes. But perhaps no one feels the change of roles as deeply as the cancer patient who does not know if he or she will survive the treatments they face. And if they survive what role will they have then?
So when you meet someone who has lost their current identity walk with them in this scary time in their lives. Listen carefully. Surround them with compassion until they find that what was stolen from them can be replaced.