Cancer – The One Word That Changes Everything

Cancer. It’s my life’s work. My calling. It’s a word that makes people shudder. It’s a life changing diagnosis. Once the word cancer is uttered by a provider, that patient’s life will never be the same. Their world is suddenly turned upside down by just one word. Cancer.

I devote hour after hour to provide the best care possible, both indirectly and directly, to cancer patients. To me, this is the reason God put me on this earth. I can, and have previously on this blog, gone on and on about how incredible it is to work in the field I get to work in. On Friday as I was walking out of work I was talking with a co-worker who recently had a loved one diagnosed with cancer. She made the comment that it is really incredible the perspective that cancer, both fortunately and unfortunately, gives one person on life.

I’ve sat with many patients as they digest that 3 weeks ago they were living a normal life and now they are in the hospital indefinitely with a diagnosis that could cut their life expectancy in half. I’ve sat with the mom who says “I just want to see my kids grow up” or “I just want to see my child get married next month”. I’ve walked through the hair loss and grief process that goes with losing something you’ve never lived without. I’ve sat with the young adult who’s arms are so bruised up from being poked, they start crying before the needle even comes near them.

But no matter how much I deal with it day in and day out, it’s always different when a loved one of mine is diagnosed. I got into this field because of watching so many loved ones walk through it, but each time it happens, my heart continues to break. It doesn’t change the heaviness or ache that is in my heart. In fact, I think the more I know, the more my heart aches, because I know too much about the road ahead.

My beautiful friend Maggie recently heard that one word. Cancer. She has cancer. She was in grad school and planning a wedding to her dream guy, when her world crashed into pieces around her. And my heart breaks that with my recent move, I am now 4 hours away from her.

Cancer.

Maggie and I met at church and had an instant connection. It was one of those we couldn’t talk fast enough to each other, because the comfort level was there from the beginning, and the “me toos” just kept on coming. We think alike. Dress alike (have shown up in the exact same outfit, more than once). We have similar passions and dreams. And no matter how long it’s been, we can pick up right where we left off. Maggie is one of those people that has made me realize I’m not alone in this world. She’s a lively spirit, that has a passion for life, and chases after her dreams with every fiber in her being. She has a heart for God and to serve others.

So when I got the news today, I stopped dead in my tracks. I must have looked pretty lost because the people at Whole Foods kept checking to make sure I was okay. Cancer. It’s struck again. This is the thing about cancer, it doesn’t have a bias. It can choose anyone. While yes, there are things that you can do to help prevent it or raise your chances, but it still can strike wherever and whoever it wants. And it does. And in an instant cancer, changes everything by rearing it’s ugly head.

But true to Maggie and her fiance Travis’s character, they’re choosing hope and to fight with all their might. They are choosing to not let cancer win. They are choosing to face it head on, to get married, to plan for a family, and to love the God they serve. And this. This is what keeps me going day in and day out in the field of oncology. People like my precious friend Maggie and her fiance Travis. That know no matter what the outcome is in the number of days, they don’t let cancer win because they choose to live every day.

Read more about Maggie’s Story Here

From grouch to grateful – a nurse’s attitude adjustment

I woke up this morning feel defeated. The last few weeks things have been a bit rough. On top of that, I woke up at 4:30 for no reason and couldn’t fall back asleep. I got up eventually, got ready for work, and went there frustrated and grouchy. If I was being completely honest, I wanted to crawl into a hole and not talk to people. We all know those days, right?

Grateful Heart

Before I even got to work it was clear that things were not going as planned for the day.  Commence tiny violins playing in my head and the desire to crawl into a hole growing even bigger. Throughout the day I’m holding back sassy and sarcastic comments and trying to adjust my attitude.

In the middle of the day I was doing a dressing change on one of my young adult patients. This patient is younger than me and has had an extremely rough year. We’re talking about a lot of different things and out of no where she dives into a short spiel that went something like this…. “Erica just in case you’re wondering you make a difference in people’s lives every day, don’t every doubt that. You’re one of my angels.”

With tears in my eyes I told her thank you and that some days I do wonder. Some days I wonder if everything I’m doing really does matter. And some days, even though I know and witness plenty of people who have it far worse than me, I wonder why some things happen to me. And one of those some days was today.

So as I reflect on this Thanksgiving week, I’m reminded of one main thing, patients may claim I’m their angel, but in so many cases, these patients (and their loved ones) are my angels. Thanksgiving this year just got a whole lost sweeter.

 

Oncology Nursing Chose Me

This is a guest blog from Erin E. She currently resides in Grand Rapids, MI with her family where she works on an inpatient oncology unit. I (Erica) am honored to call her not only a colleague but one of my dear, dear friends. Your heart is an inspiration, Erin!

I didn't choose to bean oncology

People often ask how I chose to work in oncology. I usually tell them my story and what brought me to Grand Rapids and my oncology patients. The truth is, oncology chose me. As a new nurse, I was hungry to work. I was yearning to put all my nursing skills from school to use. Every area in nursing was new and exciting. I wasn’t fully sure where I would thrive and which area I would enjoy best.

Continue reading “Oncology Nursing Chose Me”

Tough Conversations; Through the eyes of an oncology nurse

I’m an oncology nurse. I knew when I signed up for the job that it was a tough one and that tough conversations was part of it. But some weeks the tough conversations are never ending. And sometimes the tough conversations rip my heart to shreds. And sometimes I want to hop in my car and drive for miles. Or put on my running shoes and run until it makes sense. But here is the thing; it won’t make sense. Cancer doesn’t make sense.

Sky-sunset

Some weeks cancer pisses me off more than other weeks and this week was one of those. On Friday I opened my e-mail and had two e-mails of bad news from patient’s loved ones. I’ve said it often, but I think we need a punching bag in our office. A place for both employees and patients to take out some anger. And let me tell you, this Friday morning I needed it. 

Why? I sat there and asked… why? But here is the thing, I’m the nurse. I’m the supporter. And I had to get myself together and call these loved ones. I knew the status of one of these patients from the e-mail, but called to get the plan of care. The news kept being worse, but this patient’s loved one was so gracious. They were in shock and upset, but they graciously took the news and were taking the bull by the horns and ready to fight. And at the end of the conversation you want to know what this patient’s loved one said to me? Thank you. In the middle of their battle when all I can be is the communicator and the emotional support; when I have nothing else left that I can do at that moment and they are facing a huge new unexpected battle she stops and thanks ME. 

After this phone call I went back to speak with the PA. I told her I wasn’t ready to make the next phone call. After the news of the first two patients I was spent. I went to make the phone call anyways, because it needed to be done. My heart broke. It isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that a patient’s loved one asks me to tell them what is really going on. What they really need to prepare for. But every time I have these conversations it hurts the same. 

I had this conversation twice that day with two different loved ones. And here is the thing that struck me yet again… both of them stopped and thanked me. After the phone calls were concluded and the rest of my day was wrapped up I got in my car and I sat stunned. It was a tough week and a really tough day, but yet again I was reminded why I do my job. Because even when I have very little I can do for patients and their families and even when I have to be the truth bearer, they teach me so many things.

The tough conversations will continue to come throughout my career. The days of needing a punching bag will continue. The days of wanting to run as fast and hard as I can until something makes sense will still occur. But this is what I was created to do at this time in my life. And those “thank yous” make it worth it. 

So to my patients and their loved ones. Thank you. Thank you for all you teach me through the tough conversations. Thank you for your thank yous. 

As we step into pediatric cancer awareness month let us all learn more about the tough conversations so many families are going through. And let us learn how we can help them as they walk through these tough battles. 

I need cancer patients

The amazing nurses I work with

I was debating on my blog topic for this week while sitting and watching the Superbowl. And then the Chevy commercial came on. I wasn’t quite sure what it was about, but the look on the wife’s face were tears of appreciation and joy and the look on the husband’s face of thankfulness and complete adoration reminded me of so many relationships I’ve witnessed within my job. And then came the truth, it was exactly about that. February 4, 2014 is world cancer day. And while I’m not a Chevy fan, I appreciate that they spent their Superbowl money to raise awareness. Check out the commercial:

I’ve had this thought running through my head for a few weeks about how it is viewed that my patients need me. They need me to draw their blood, take their vitals, listen to their symptoms and help manage them, help make things clear and explain things, teach them about different things, give them their medications, listen to their struggles, and so much more. Even on the toughest days… the days where I struggle to smile or struggle to focus I know without a doubt I was made to be a nurse; specifically a nurse to cancer patients. It is on these days of struggle that I especially need cancer patients.

I feel strange saying that I need cancer patients, but it is true. I want to make it clear… I have a strong dislike, really a hate, for cancer and wish that it didn’t exist, but I have first hand witnessed how something so ugly can produce some of the most beautiful stories.  These patients and their families make my life so much richer. Through their battles I learn so much. Through their love for each other I learn so much. Through their ability to show their struggles I learn so much. My absolute favorite aspect of my job is sitting down and talking with these patients and their loved ones. It is knowing that at the end of the day I just don’t put medications in them and draw their blood, but that I truly have spent time with them. That when things get tough, they trust me.

I think back on some of my favorite patient stories, and to be honest they are often hard stories, but beauty within them. The young dad who was going home on hospice, but still chose to enjoy every moment he could with his wife and son despite the excruciating pain he was in. The middle aged woman who thought I was crazy because I wouldn’t leave her side when she had elevated blood pressure, but smiled at me. I had the privilege of taking care of her almost every shift and her smile sticks in my head and heart. She had a grace about her that few have. One day I came in and I remember the shock I had as I heard she was actively dying. I had the privilege of knowing this incredible woman, and I had the privilege of taking care of her in her last few hours. Her grace shined through in her final breaths.

I remember the man who had ulcerative colitis and on top of that a new diagnosis of cancer. He had a longer medical history than almost anyone I’ve ever seen. I took care of him for 3 nights in a row. On night one he could barely sit up on his own. By night 3 he was getting out of bed and walking. I have rarely seen such courage, hard work, and determination. It was through this patient I learned what determination truly looks like.

I could talk for hours about the love I have witnessed in so many husbands eyes as they look at their wives. Often these women have lost all their hair, many have had mastectomies, and their color is gone. Their physical beauty is altered by all of this and normally many scars. But this is where I’ve witnessed what true love looks like. Because in these husbands eyes all I saw was love; pure adoration for their wives. It has been in these stories I’ve been challenged not to settle. To find a love that is as true as these that I’ve seen.

Just last week while my patient is facing cancer, which makes so many of my battles seem insignificant, a very special patient wrote ME a note of encouragement. I had had a very bad week (you can read about it here) and this patient was encouraging ME. It is true when I say, I need cancer patients. They make my life so much richer. And I am so blessed and thankful to call myself a nurse of cancer patients.

So as world cancer day is here (or possibly it is after it as you are now reading this), I want to challenge you. Challenge you to learn the stories of the wonderful people who face cancer daily. Challenge you to see how you can help raise money to fight this horrible disease. Challenge you to join in supporting these wonderful people during or after their battle. Challenge you to walk alongside the loved ones of those who have faced this disease not directly, but through walking this battle with a loved one. I promise you won’t regret learning their stories.

Trust me when I say, you will not regret getting to know these incredible stories and these incredible people.

How are you going to fight?

3 of my favorite oncology RDs and I

On a final note we want to share in the rejoicing of a miracle of baby Charlie. His mother shared their story here: But this only happens to other people Christa shared this incredible news on facebook just the other day and we are SO excited for baby Charlie and his parents:

“I know many of you have been following our journey, and I just have to let you know about our latest miracles. A little over two weeks ago we began patching Charlie’s good eye with an eye patch daily in effort to strengthen the bad eye. The Dr. said that “we could not patch enough”. I had high hopes that he would see to of that eye immediately, and things would be great. This unfortunately was not the case. It was very difficult to watch Charlie’s happy demeanor change every time we patched him. He would hang his head and just check-out. He would not respond at all to Scott or I visually and that was pretty heartbreaking. It seemed cruel to me to be putting him through this, but we knew we had to stay with it. We began to pray. Jesus healed the blind in the Bible, right? God has brought Charlie this far, so why wouldn’t he continue to work in his little life? So we continued to patch, but I needed an attitude adjustment with it. Patching was something I dreaded because Charlie didn’t enjoy it, and it’s unbelievably difficult to keep an eight month old engaged for a couple hours a day when he can’t see. I tried new things everyday to stimulate his other senses, but I was definitely running out of ideas. I was reading one morning in my devotional, Jesus Calling (highly recommend!) and it challenged me to thank God for the very things that were troubling me. Patching immediately came to mind! It hit me that I really should be thankful for the very opportunity to patch Charlie’s eye – just 6 months ago we were given a 0% chance of saving his eye. Six months ago the idea and patching and the possibility of having vision let alone an eye were out of the question. How sad that I quickly forgot how far God has brought us. What a mammoth perspective shift! Thank you Lord for that wake-up call. Anyways, that was on the 27th. Yesterday on the 29th Charlie showed his first glimpses of vision in that eye. While we had him patched yesterday he responded with a smile to Scott’s silent silly faces. I’m typing through the tears right now because I just really feel like we once again witnessed God’s healing hand on our boy. Charlie also reached for and successfully obtained two remotes intentionally. This was amazing! So today we patched again, but this time I laid the remotes out on the floor and he crawled to them! What an amazing God we serve. So we continue to pray for progress and sight, and be thankful for the very things that are troubling us. I’ll try to get a video of it tomorrow and post – it’s truly amazing!”

Ways you can help:
Kim’s Fundraising Page
Denis’s St. Jude fundraising page

A Note to the New Grad Nurse Part 2-Things we wish we knew as new grads

I can still remember the day I got my acceptance letter almost 4 years ago like it was yesterday.  It was a crisp fall day when that letter arrived in my mailbox. While in many ways it feels like just yesterday, in reality it was almost 4 years ago.  Since then I’ve finished my masters, gone through an accelerated nursing program, and now have 2 years of nursing under my belt.  Every day I am still learning a ton, but there a few things my now “experienced” nursing friends and I wish we had known when we first put on those scrubs and proudly put on that badge saying boldly and loudly “RN.

27 Things We Wished We Knew as New Grad Nurses

1. If you feel like you are going to puke before every shift or drive to work in tears… don’t worry you aren’t alone. Same thing if this is what happens after your shifts. You are most definitely NOT alone.

2. Don’t accept just any job.  While it is hard as a new grad to find experience, you will be spending  A LOT of time there it is ok to wait for the right fit.

3. On that same note though, your dream job may take time, but a good fit is a GREAT place to learn.

4.  Confidence in yourself. It takes TIME. And that is ok.

5.  Sometimes SBAR isn’t all you need to tell the MD, PA, or NP.

6.  Those silly code runs that are fake and make you feel ridiculous. They actually are REALLY helpful!

7.  The field of nursing is wide and broad. Don’t limit yourself to just bedside nursing if it isn’t your passion, that is ok.

8.  You DON’T HAVE TO KNOW EVERYTHING. It is ok to say “I don’t know” and learn for next time.

9.  Asking questions doesn’t make you a bad nurse or make you stupid, it makes you SMART. That is the absolute best way to learn.

10.  Every place has its own “Policies and Procedures”.  Realize that how you learned something in nursing school may change during your first job… and your second… and your third… and so on.

11. You aren’t going to like every patient you take care of and that is OK. You just have to give every patient the best quality care you can.

12.  Driving home from work… crawling into bed after a long night shift you’re going to realize “OH MY GOODNESS I DIDN’T CHART THAT 300 mL OF URINE!”. You aren’t perfect. If it is something that needs attention you can call in to the nurse who followed you, but if it is something that can be let go… let it go. Learn from your mistakes of not charting in the moment and figure out a system of remembering that works for you.

13.  You have to come up with your own system of writing things down, charting, doing assessments, and managing your shift. It is perfectly ok if it isn’t like anyone else’s as long as it works for you and you can get everything done.

14. The first few shifts on your own you’re going to feel like a truck hit you and you’re never going to make it. But you will.

15.  Don’t be afraid to go in the bathroom, sit on the toilet, and take some deep breaths.  In the end every nurse has taken extra time in the bathroom just to catch their breath for a minute.

16.  When possible…. waste the medications that needed wasted right then and there.  That is just something you don’t want to even chance forgetting.

17.  You are your patients’s ADVOCATE. Don’t be afraid to stand up for them.  And if you’re wrong… oh well… at least you can leave knowing you fought for your patient.

18.  Keep your social life.

19.  Try as best as possible to lead a healthy lifestyle outside of work.  13 hour shifts are brutal.

20.  If you’re in MedSurg… we feel your pain. But know this. YOU ARE GOING TO LEARN A TON!

21.  There is a person beneath that rude and frustrating patient.  Do the best you can to find that person and care for their soul too.

22.  Find hobbies outside of work that help you unwind.

23.  This is a 24 HOUR institution if you are in a hospital.  Leave the patients with the other nurses. They are trustworthy and capable :-).

24.  Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.  You went to school for this. You’ve done your training. You’ve come this far. You don’t need to be walked all over.

25.  As you learn your area of specialty things will really start to fall into place. You’ll understand things better and you’ll be able to tell earlier and earlier when something is wrong in a patient.  Never underestimate the little things. They can in the end be warning signs for something much much bigger.

26.  You are only one person. Do not be afraid to ask for help! And one of the best things you can learn how to do is delegate appropriately… but don’t forget to double check that things that have been delegated are done.

27.  When you’re tired, warn out, smelly, dehydrated, not sure what is on your shoes, and squinting at the sun light as if you were a vampire know this. YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE IT! You are an incredibly intelligent person who has fought hard to get this far in your dream.  Keep running after it with your whole heart!  And don’t be afraid to try a few different areas until you find your passion (but make sure you give each area an ample amount of time before moving on).

We hope this helps,

Some slightly more experienced nurses

P.S. It is true the more you know… the more you realize you don’t know anything :-).

Erica

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