satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam
priyam ca nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanah
Speak truth in such a way that it should be pleasing to others. Never speak truth, which is unpleasant to others. Never speak untruth, which might be pleasant. This is the path of eternal morality, sanatana dharma.
She lies on the hospital bed, frail, tired, body ravaged by the disease and its treatment. She tries to make small talk, but her eyes speak volumes about her fear and her pain. Her daughter asks me "People tell me that in spite of all this treatment and all this discomfort, the disease might not get cured, it might recur. Is this true?" I am in a fix. I ponder over how to answer that question as two pairs of eyes stare at me expectantly. I want to say something encouraging, so that she doesn't give up fighting; but I hear RV's voice in my head , telling me "They need to know the true picture, we can't give them false hope". I say nonchalantly, "well, true, sometimes the disease doesn't go away and there's a good chance that it might come back, too". Their faces fall, eyes start welling up . I continue speaking, in a hurry to get the words out . "Yet, the doctor says there is a good chance one is cured completely, and we have to take that chance". The despair ebbs a bit and there is a quite desperation in the daughter's voice as she asks me "If it does recur, we just have to take the same treatment again, and it will go away, won't it?" My resolve is shaken, and I take the easy way out . "Yes. Anyway, we will just do as the doctor says; and things should be fine". It might be false hope, but they both look more cheerful and ready to face the hurdles that lie ahead.
I wonder how oncologists do this job daily, of meeting people and telling them the whole truth.