Thursday, April 28, 2011

The expertise that comes from experience has value

My column from today's Briefing:

Everyone is an expert in something. Everyone’s got at least one topic that they own.
You can ask that expert anything about his topic and expect a confident answer — or the promise of quick research and then a confident answer.
If I need baking tips or rescue from kitchen disaster, I ask Melissa. Travel tips for most major cities, Jackie or Holly. Computer networks, Jim. Girl Scout leader advice, Zita. Financial markets, Layne.
Before cancer hit our family, I fancied myself an expert on Seinfeld and books for preschoolers. That’s what happens when you watch every single episode of a show multiple times. And obsess slightly over the best books to read to young children to promote literacy.
I miss those innocent days, before I knew anything about how to read complete blood count test results or what a PICC line is or how to select a hospice agency.
Since my husband’s brain cancer diagnosis, treatment and death, I’ve become an extremely amateur expert in lesions of the brain, how to coordinate care for a family in crisis, hospice issues and grief counseling.
Every few weeks, someone will pull me aside or send an email and say something like: “I don’t want to upset you, but I have a friend whose husband has a brain tumor. Can you talk to her?” or “Which hospice agency did you use?” or “Which website is best for managing volunteers?”
I hate that experience has brought me here. I hate the tumor that stole Steve’s young life. I hate that our children lost the physical presence of the world’s most devoted dad, that they struggle to remember what his voice sounded like, that they go to bed every night without his hugs.
But I hope that people never stop asking for advice. Because something good and hopeful and healing has to develop from all that pain and heartache and despair.
Of all the cancer families who’ve been given my contact information in the past year and a half (I’ve lost track of the number), just a few have followed through.
Who can blame them? Our family’s story doesn’t have the happily-ever-after ending that folks want. We witnessed lots of little miracles during Steve’s illness, but we weren’t granted the grand, showstopping miracle of a cure or even remission.
Hidden in my family’s cancer story, though, are countless details of joy, examples of God’s love reflected through a community of volunteers, and practical tips that make living with cancer a little less awful.
Saturday night at church, just after an early Easter worship service focused on hope, a friend pulled me aside. (He was one of those volunteers who helped our family during Steve’s illness.)
His sister-in-law is very ill. There is an unidentified lesion in her middle brain. She and her husband live overseas, and they were flying in the next day for better medical care.
I hate that I know what they should do.
But I am thankful that I know which specialists they need and which emergency room they should visit to get entry to the ideal caregivers.
I am thankful that the neurologist who first treated Steve in 2007 is now a friend and trusted medical adviser who never hesitates to answer my phone calls and text messages.
I am thankful that it’s possible to recognize little slivers of good that come from really awful events.
I’d like to think that one day, even, I will fancy myself an expert in hope.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

1 comment:

Julianne said...

GREAT column! I love this one. . .