Hope: “Nothing but the Paint on the Face of Existence”
Lord Byron wrote: “But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.”
Not all hope is that grim. Hope is a complex mental process which affects our interpretation of the evidence about ourselves or others. Hope leads us in the direction of some decision. Without hope, there would be no basis to make certain decisions which might change an outcome to our benefit or those of others. But hope has to arise from and be based on evidence-based information to be of value.
False hope, created by misinterpretation of the facts or by receiving information which is without basis in reality, though initially may be supportive to the individual eventually becomes destructive by delaying or preventing the individual to consider all the options still available or the taking of other essential supportive actions.
Though hope is something that can affect our decisions and our feelings about control and accomplishment in various aspects of our lives, hope is an important element in disease and the patient’s management of their disease. Hope plays an important role in most any disease for which treatments are inconsistent in outcome and the consequences are disabling or fatal. Of course, such a disease can be cancer.
Hope, as may be present in a cancer patient, can continue throughout the illness until the patient recognizes that a hoped for cure has become hopeless. Hopelessness may not be accepted by the patient if the patient is awaiting a miracle.
Miracles in the practice of medicine represent clinical responses to hope which are fully unexpected by professional experience or by scientific explanation. When they do occur, they can be explained by scientifically unknown factors in the progression of the disease or occasionally by a misdiagnosis. Unfortunately, waiting for miracles, especially with cancer patients, can lead to making wrong decisions, undergoing unnecessary procedures and treatments, and unnecessarily prolonging the period of suffering before finally accepting hospice management with attention to maintaining palliative comfort care rather than further attempts at a cure.
Recognition of hopelessness at some point must be made for the patient to have the opportunity to finally accept and act on that prognosis both for practical reasons but also to attempt to establish emotional peace.
I would be most interested reading my visitors’ experiences regarding the matter of hope in medical illness, miracles, false hope and hopelessness as experienced by themselves or by family members or friends. ..Maurice.
Graphic: Photograph taken by myself and digitally modified.