A note to oncology care providers….

A few months ago my staff and I experienced multiple losses in a short period of time of patients we were very close with. This is a note I wrote to them to remind them that while our job is not easy, it is so worth it. To all oncology care providers out there, remember you are making a difference.

It was a tough week last week… which got me to thinking…

Recently I sat down at my new church to learn more about the church and in return, they wanted to learn about me. Quickly into my career as an oncology nurse I learned to just say “I’m a nurse” leaving out the oncology/cancer/hospice part. The reason for this is because once you say the word “oncology” or “cancer” and especially “hospice”, people’s faces tend to fall and the next question is often “how do you do it?”. In this particular case I did say just nurse first, but they proceeded to ask the question of what type of nurse, so I answered. Then I heard countless stories of how other people in the field of oncology had touched them and their family through cancer battles.

Each of you are a part of this team who makes a difference day in and day out in the lives of these patients and their loved ones. You hold their hands when they are scared, you clean up their puke, empty out their urinals, help them to the bathroom when they are too weak to make it on their own, but they want the dignity of going in a real toilet, you educate them on safety and why you need to be there, and the list goes on.

Each of us got on this career path for different reasons and each of us will be here a different amount of time. For some, it is a brief stop in their career journey. For others it will be their life’s work. Others it is somewhere in the middle. Some people landed here because you yourself or a loved one was personally touched by the care other healthcare providers in the oncology field provided. There are those that just landed in this because it was the open position. And others have a heart for oncology just because. No matter the time frame or reason, you matter.

So as I reflect back on the losses that we all felt deeply this week. As I think of the countless times I’ve felt the grief of losing an incredible patient to the horrible disease that is cancer, I want to encourage each of you. I want to let you know that you aren’t alone. I want to let you know that there is room to grieve. Most importantly though, I want you to know that you matter. That the work you are doing day in and day out is changing the lives of people, many of who have a ticking clock over their heads on how long they have left on this earth.

Oncology nursing has been my career plan since I was 16, but nursing leadership/management was not in that plan, that is more something that transpired as my career has progressed. As a leader on this unit, I am honored to work alongside each of you. You all and the patients are the reason I am here. And every time I hear “exceptional plus” or “satisfactory plus” in response to the care you are providing, my heart swells with joy and pride. Thank you for being a team that listens and truly cares. Thank you for caring, even when the pain runs deep. Please know my door is always open for a place to debrief and I’m walking alongside each of you. Thank you for making this unit exceptional plus.

Grace Makes Me Brave

Grace. That’s my word for this year, this season. Grace. It’s a word that I thought I knew the meaning of, but only knew the surface of before this season. Grace, I’ve found, gives me strength. Grace, I’ve found, provides joy. Grace, I’ve found, makes me brave. Grace is a firm foundation I can stand on.

This season has been one of rocky, wavy, stormy waters. It has been one of trial after trial after trial. And it has been one where multiple times I’ve had no idea how I could continue on. I’ve shed more tears than I have in a long time. I’ve wondered if I could handle anything else, right as another storm was blowing in. And I feel like my day to day life has been a dream because so much has been going on.

As I sit here in the room that I’ve called mine for over 3 years for my last Sunday morning in it, I’m feeling a lot of different emotions. Thursday I opened my e-mail to find the copy of the announcement of the person’s who’s place I’m taking’s departure and my arrival with a bio about me. And it hit me. This is really happening and this is a really big job (and a job that I was wanted for). In some ways, this move has been a pipe dream for many years. In other ways, this has been something I thought may never happen, because the door had been shut so many times.

But as I sat in the HR office on Friday and kept hearing “the team is so, so excited to have you!” And as I walked around the apartment that I would be calling home in less than 1 week – I realized, this is really happening.

Grace and faith in those moments – I grabbed and clung onto them.

And I sat there and reflected on and I clung to the moments a few days prior where I looked at my little brother and gripped onto truth that he is a walking miracle right now. You see, a few weeks ago as I hopped in my car to head to the interviews that would potentially bring me closer to family,  I was teetering, because leaving the place I’ve called home for 5 years wasn’t going to be an easy decision. I had heard that morning that there was an increase in 20-30 year old having strokes. I’m medical, so this caught my attention, but little did I think that night my family would become part of that statistic that very night.

As I was driving down the highway to these interviews and heard my brother couldn’t move and was having severe dizziness and was in the E.D. with a new diagnosis of something I had never heard of, but knew it didn’t sound good. I started to cry. Full on sobbing as I’m driving down the highway screaming at God “I get it, I’m supposed to move, just let him be ok.”

You see, I learned, that sometimes my life has to fall apart from all directions for God to catch my attention. Sometimes I get so comfortable, that He has to allow things to get uncomfortable to get me where He is leading me. I’ve learned just how He can use things of pain and hurt for His glory. Because without those many hurts and deep deep pains, I wouldn’t be headed where I am right now. And as my stubborn bull headed self got in the way throughout this process, He gave me grace upon grace upon grace. When I slammed a door shut, He gently re-opened it and whispered “I’m opening this, don’t close it”. I learned the freedom in true forgiveness. I learned who will be there for me in the storms and who won’t. I learned once again, just how important family is, no matter how much they drive you nuts.

I’ve learned that I will cling to the grace from above to make me brave in the toughest moments of life. And here I am, diving head first into facing the immensity. I’m headed towards dreams that were not developed by me, but by the life God has dreamt up for me. And those are the sweetest dreams of all.

Ready or not, here this goes.

How Do You Do it?

How do you do it? It’s a question I get asked all the time about my job. Some days, on days like today, where I mourn the loss of a patient who was near and dear to my heart, I wonder. I wonder how do I continue to do this? But here’s the thing, even when my heart is laced in grief my response is this – how could I not do it? You see, the deeper I dig into the question, the longer I’m an oncology nurse, the older I get – the more aware I become of how things in life aren’t necessarily meant to be easy. Especially the best things in life.

Oncology Nurse

I still remember when I was 17 walking into a hospital and my thought was “this feels like home”. Sounds crazy, right? But there was something that drew me in, and continues to draw me in. The more I thought about and experienced the oncology field, the more I was hooked. I can’t explain it, and I’m not sure that any one of us can. This is what I do know though – you ask any of us who feel called to the oncology field and we can simply answer “I was made to do this”.

So instead of looking for ways for it to be easier, I’m looking for ways to walk through it well.

So as I have thought through and continue to think through the question “how do you do it?” I still keep coming back to, how could I not? I mean, I could not. I could walk away and enter another field of nursing and some day I might. But as for now, this is my calling, and I know this with my whole heart. So instead of looking for ways for it to be easier, I’m looking for ways to walk through it well.

I’m making a conscious decision to every day develop who I am and my coping mechanisms. I’m choosing to surround myself with community that will walk through life with me. I’m digging into who I am, how I was created, and working on making myself the healthiest I can possibly be.

Most importantly though, I’m choosing to focus on the things that make me love my job. I mean, for a science nerd, to be in one of the fastest advancing medical fields is incredible. The amount of new drugs coming out is breathtakingly awesome. Not to mention I work with some of the best doctors, nurses. CNAs, midlevels, and other office staff around. They are like family to me.

I wish that just for a moment you could get a glimpse into the incredible people’s souls who entrust me to walk with them through the hell they are living in.

The best part though? The patients and their loved ones. The fact that because of my job, I have met some of the most amazing people is enough, but it doesn’t stop there. I wish that just for a moment you could get a glimpse into the incredible people’s souls who entrust me to walk with them through the hell they are living in. I have witnessed what true love looks like in all sorts of relationships. It’s in the husband who still finds his wife beautiful, even when all her worldly beauty is gone. It’s in the son who makes his work schedule around when his mom has chemo treatments. It’s in the friend who cancels her plans on spare of the moment to take their very sick friend to treatment. It’s in the adult kids who take care of their dying father in his final days so he can be at home.

So instead of asking me “how do you do it?” Ask me “how can I help you do this?”

These people, the patients and their loved ones, challenge me to be a better person. To love deeper. To live well. To embrace all emotions – both the good and the bad.  To be the best me I can be.

So instead of asking me “how do you do it?” Ask me “how can I help you do this?” Because that is what we need. Any of us in fields that are as emotionally tough as the oncology field need the cheerleaders on our side. Walking with us, crying with us, listening to us. This is the best thing you can do for us, so that we can continue to do what we were made to do, and do it well.

 

 

Nursing: I Didn’t Choose it Because it Was Easy

As a nurse, there are weeks of work where I don’t sit longer than to quickly shove down my lunch down and to speedily chart. There are times I end a day with my legs aching and barely the strength lift  open my eyes and all I can think is “my brain hurts.” But even in those moments, I can sit and say I love what I do. I didn’t choose it because it was easy, I chose it because I care.

Oncology Nurse

I’ve written about my job often, about how it isn’t easy and why I love it. This isn’t anything new. But every day I discover something new about why I love what I do. I love that my friends have different interests and passions. Hearing about what other people do for their jobs is one of my favorite things. We were all created differently and with a separate purpose. Even within my field there are many different types of oncology nurses and I get to learn how to be a better nurse through each of them.

There is one thing that is in common though with each oncology nurse I know. They care and they care deeply.

I don’t know what your passions are. I don’t know if like me you are a nurse or if you like economics or if you get how computers work from the inside out or if you create the most beautiful things. But I hope you love what you do. Or have something in your life that you love what you get to do there.

I can say even in the toughest moments of my life when I know I’m hugging that young mom for the last time or I’m speaking to the family member as they look at me and ask me if their loved one is dying I love what I do. Because I know without a doubt I was created to do this.

 

Note: this post was originally published on November 10, 2014.

I Wouldn’t Change a Thing

Recently I was talking with someone who doesn’t know me very well and they asked if I see myself in oncology nursing for the rest of my career. I answered honestly – I can’t imagine my career without working with cancer patients in some way, shape, or form. I truly do love what I do. Even when the world seems to be crashing, I can’t catch up, my feet ache, my brain hurts, I’m sobbing over exhaustion, or I’m sobbing over grief. I was made to do this. I’m not exactly sure when cancer patients became a passion of mine – it was more something that seems to have been weaved into the soul of who I am made to be.

WorldCancer

It’s World Cancer Day. So what does World Cancer Day mean to me? Continue reading “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing”

The Gut of a Nurse

The patient walked into the clinic for fluids. It had been a few months since I had that feeling in my gut. Any nurse can tell you about that feeling. It is this awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. It comes even when there is nothing clearly telling you why it is there. You just know you need to keep a close eye on that patient. So you do. You keep watching for something to indicate why your gut alarm has gone off.

The nurse -gut feeling- can't be taught,

One of my nursing professors told me that the gut feeling can’t be taught. That you can’t create a nurse, but you can shape one. I agree with her. Long before I was an official nurse I had a gut feeling. But the more educated you get, the more experience you have, the more fine tuned that gut gets especially within your specialty.

Continue reading “The Gut of a Nurse”

How I Learned What “Thankful” Means

It was just a short three years ago that I experienced it for the first time, and I was one and a half months into my nursing career. Since I was still on orientation, I was lucky enough to have Thanksgiving off. I did however work that Wednesday prior. As I wrapped up my shift at the end of the day,  I noticed the sullen, quiet lull that took over the halls of the hospital. Everyone who could be discharged, was. Patients who were still in the hospital were there for one of three reasons: they were either receiving chemo that required them to be there, they were unstable, or they were actively dying. After my shift concluded I jumped in my car for the three hour drive from Michigan to Indiana.  During the car ride I began to understand what being thankful truly looked like.

morning drop, anchor drop, inspiration

Continue reading “How I Learned What “Thankful” Means”

A Salute to Ebola Care Nurses

I’m presently watching the 60 Minutes special on Ebola, listening to nurses who took care of Thomas Duncan and hearing about their experiences caring for the first patient diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States. It’s hitting really close to home.

nursing, family, Ebola, patient care

As a nurse, I have had many friends ask me, “would you take care of the patient if they were in your hospital?” Currently I don’t work in a hospital and am an oncology nurse (always have been), which means that even in the hospital I would have never be faced with this decision. I will (in a hospital environment) work on a floor with immunocompromised patients. Here is the thing, though: I would without hesitation take care of that patient. I am a nurse; caring for patients – for people – is what I do. Continue reading “A Salute to Ebola Care Nurses”

Today I Closed a Door

It was my last day at the job I’ve been at for the last year and a half today. It was a tough decision to leave, but I am so incredibly at peace about the decision it is kind of scary. But I’m sitting here tonight reflecting on all this job brought me. It brought me so much that I have to be thankful for, my heart is overwhelmed. I leave knowing I am leaving incredible coworkers behind, but that I will get to continue to have them as friends. I leave reflecting on all the patients who’s care I have been a part of. Some are in remission, some are still fighting a courageous battle, and some have moved on from this world. I leave this job a much better person because of all the people I came in contact during it.

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Change is never easy. Even good change is still hard.

I will be getting over an hour back of my day between commuting and a shorter shift. I will be able to learn more about many cancers that I don’t yet know about and chemos that I’m not familiar with. Overall it is a step to continue to advance in my career. It is a GOOD step. But with every new door there is an old door closing. There are the things I am looking at saying “I will never do that again”. This is how I process. This is how I work through things and move on. This is how I close doors.

I have the absolute joy and privilege of being a chemo nurse. This job provided that open door to me. This job set the foundation for me to step into the world I now call my career. It isn’t an easy one. And on some days let me tell you that it just plain sucks. 100%. There are days that I as a person with very little of a temper am so incredibly pissed off at cancer. There are days that I step out my front door and sprint as long as I can because I don’t understand it. I don’t get how so many amazing people are taken so young by such an awful disease.

But amid the trials, pain, and grief I get the privilege of seeing the beauty. Of seeing the love. And I am so beyond excited to step into the next step of my career. This new job will allow me to be happier, healthier, and more whole myself. And as a nurse that is one of the biggest gifts I can give my patients.

So even though the decision to switch jobs was hard. Even though in the middle of this transition I’m freaking out the majority of the time. I know it’s right.  So I’m taking this step for my health. For my sanity. Thankful for my experience, but ready to continue the job I love in a healthier environment. And reminding myself that even some of the best changes I will make in my life are still going to be hard. Change. It is one of the most beautiful and yet difficult aspects of life.

Dear Cancer Patient-Thank You

Dear Cancer Patient,

Thank you. Thank you for teaching me about living. Truly living. Thank you for teaching me what it means to look forward even when a storm is chasing you from behind.

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Thank you for showing me what it means to “fight like hell” as the ABC Family show “Chasing Life” says. Thank you for showing me what sweet surrender means.  Just thank you.

The reason I do what I do is because of each of you.  Because your thank yous, your hugs, because of your fight and your stories, because of who you challenge me to become. You challenge me to be a better person and a better nurse.

I choose to do my job. I choose to fight with you. I choose to be quiet with you. I choose my job every day because of you.

So I’ll walk beside you and let’s continue to do this. Let’s fight like mad until we can do a sweet victory dance. Let’s fight like made until its time to surrender. Let’s fight.

Thank you for making my job worth it.

Sincerely,

One of your cancer nurses

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