As an oncologist with 29 years of professional experience, I can say that I’ve grown and changed as a result of the tragedies my patients have endured. We don’t know our real measure until, amid adversity, we discover that we are capable of going far beyond what we imagined.
I have fond memories of the Oncological Hospital of Pernambuco, where I took my first steps as a professional. I started going to the children’s ward, and there I fell in love with pediatric oncology.
I witnessed the tragedies my patients endured, as innocent little victims of cancer. With the birth of my first daughter, I started to feel uncomfortable seeing children suffer. Until the day an angel passed by!
I saw that angel in the semblance of an 11-year-old girl, exhausted by two years of different treatments, handling, injections and all the problems that chemical treatment programs and radiation involve. But I never saw that little angel give up. I saw her cry many times. I also saw the fear in her eyes, but that is only human!
One day I arrived at the hospital, early and I found my little angel alone in her room. I asked her where her mother was. To this day I cannot recount her response without becoming very emotional.
“Sometimes my mother leaves the room to cry in the hallway in secret. When I’m dead, I think my mother will miss me, but I’m not afraid to die. I wasn’t born for this life!”
“What does death represent for you, my dear?,” I asked her.
“When we’re little, sometimes we go to sleep in our parents’ bed, and the day after we wake up in our own bed, isn’t that right? (I thought about my own daughters, who at the time were 6 and 2, and this is exactly what happened with them)”.
“That’s what it’s like. One day I will go to sleep and my Father will come for me. I will wake up in His house, in my true life!”
I was stunned, and didn’t know what to say. I was shocked by the maturity which suffering had brought about in the spirit of that child.
“And my mama will miss me,” she added.
Moved, I held back the tears and asked: “And what does missing someone mean to you, my dear?”
“Missing someone is the love that remains.”
Today, at 53, I challenge anyone to give a better, more direct and simpler definition for the word “longing”: it is the love that remains.
My little angel left many us years ago, but she left me with a great lesson that helped me to improve my life, to try to be more human and affectionate with my patients, to rethink my values. When night falls, if the sky is clear and I see a star, I call it “my angel”, who sparkles and shines in heaven.
I think that in her new and eternal home, she is a shining star.
Thank you, little angel, for the life you had, for the lessons you taught me, for the help you gave me. How beautiful longing is.
— Dr. Rogério Brandão, Oncologist
Translation from Italian by Diane Montagna of Aleteia's English edition.