“Hope… is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. It is an orientation of the spirit, an
orientation of the heart… Hope… is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Whenever I think about hope, I reflect on this quote by Vaclav Havel. What does this poet, playwright, political dissident, and first president of the Czech Republic have to say about hope that is relevant to living with cancer? Well, in my book, a lot. In my experience working with patients and families coping with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, hope is a fortunate companion to have, in those journeys in which it can be found. Some people seem to have hope built into their marrow, others discover it along the way, while still others find it elusive and beyond their grasp.
Healthcare professionals sometimes worry about not wanting to give “false hope” to patients and families or not wanting to “take away” their hope. While I think practitioners have a great deal of influence over patients and families, I am not sure that they have the power to give hope or to take it away. Clinicians can provide their best estimation of prognosis and the course an illness may take at any given point in time, and do so in a caring and compassionate way. But hope, being a dimension of the spirit and of the heart, is more elusive than coming to an objective perspective off how one’s illness is likely to evolve. Hope comes from a different realm than logic, reason, and scientific facts. It can guide people in a direction that makes its own soulful sense, no matter the medical outcome.