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

It Never Gets Easier; You Just Get Stronger

I was spending some time pinning this afternoon and came across this pin….

Pinterest Pin

Underneath the pin it says “oncology nurse”.  I 100% agree with this. On Friday afternoon I sat with my coworker who has been an oncology nurse for around 15 years as she had a meltdown asking me how she is going to continue to do this. Every nurse has these, no matter what field… but I feel like it is especially hard in a field like oncology. We see people’s lives getting cut short and changed drastically every day. We mourn the loss of people who’s lives and families we have poured into month after month.

Just a few weeks ago I sat at my desk as one of the dietitians I work with and I stared at each other. In the span of a month we had lost two patients in their 30s. Two young moms. Two amazing people. And we stared at each other and asked “how do we even begin to process this? how?”

It isn’t easy to understand why cancer happens to so many amazing people.  It isn’t easy to watch people suffer. But I know this. I know that at this point in my life I was created to do this. I know that I can walk out of my job each day knowing that I have touched lives. I know that as hard as those moments of grief are, they are worth it.

They are worth it because I have been gifted with the opportunity to walk through this time of life with these people. To be let in. To be trusted. To rejoice over small victories with them. My job is a gift, my career path is a gift, and even when it seems impossible to grieve anymore… when I dread going to work because I feel so emotionally spent and the crazy days seem never ending.  I think back to the moments when those sweet patients of mine who have moved on from this life looked at me and thanked me. They hugged me and allowed me to cry with them.  They hugged me and allowed me to rejoice with them. Those moments of walking down the hall where they put their arm around me and thank me for being their nurse.

I’m not doing this because it is easy. I’m doing it because my patients make it worth it and they help to make me stronger by their strength every day.

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

“I believe in what you are doing…” A blog about grief

I remember the evening of January 19, 2010 like it was yesterday. I was in my 3rd week of nursing school when I had what I didn’t know was my final conversation with my grandpa. It pained me to speak to him because he sounded so weak. He died early in the morning on January 20. As of yesterday, that day now represents the day my family’s dog Maddie also entered into heaven as well. It was sudden and she was only 5 years old, but she died doing something she absolutely loved, barking. While I adored Maddie and will miss her sweet nature as she rested her head on my leg to be pet, the hardest part was speaking to my mom over the phone and hearing her gut wrenching sobs and not being able to bridge the 160 mile gap between us.

I’m a cancer nurse. I face the reality of the fact that death is very real every single day. I’ve walked with families through what “hospice” and “comfort care” means. I’ve educated family members on ways that we as health professionals know that death is near. I’ve whispered in the ear of patients “it is ok to let go”.   I’ve listened to a chest and heard no heartbeat and had to say to families “I’m sorry your loved one is gone”. I’ve taken that body that no longer contains life cleaned it up and placed it in a bag. I’ve rolled it down to the morgue and left it there. I’ve comforted the family as they were grieving. I’ve cried with families as the reality sets in that that person’s soul is no longer on this earth. I’ve filled out the death papers. I’ve called in the chaplain. I’ve seen death up close and personal more than once.

As a nursing student I witnessed a first breath… as a nurse I’ve witnessed many last breaths.

As my grandpa was on his death bed I was speaking to him from 600 miles away. He was ready to go and I knew that and I’m thankful for those final words he said to me as I was pouring over my studies “I believe in what you are doing, you are meant to be a nurse.”  I found out he was gone when I was sitting in class. I was in my nursing school’s bathroom sobbing. It was those words though that helped get me through the med-surg class I was convinced I was going to fail. They helped me get through the clinicals where I was in tears.  Those words helped me to get up in the days of night shift where my body felt like a wreck. Those words have stayed with me day in and day out for the 2+ years of my career. My grandpa died of cancer. I’ve not only been on the clinical side, but I’ve been on the personal side… multiple times.

There are days it is easy to forget when I’m stressed out what it is like to be the family member wondering what is going on, but I try my hardest to remember that I’ve been there. I’ve been just as worried about many of my family members.

Those words from my grandpa said so many years ago mean so much to me. And it is those words that remind me that I need to grieve. I went years without crying. I went years without letting emotion out. And that was damaging. No matter whether it is grieving the loss of a patient, the loss of a friendship in my life, the loss of a loved one, the loss of precious Maddie, the loss of a familiar life due to a move, or any sort of change that represents loss we must grieve.  Because of those words from my grandpa I am reminded I must grieve, because grieving is what helps keep me healthy and able to be the best nurse for my patients and their families.

So while this blog is a bit on the heavy side, as someone who spent years holding the tears in, I want to encourage you to let them flow. I want to encourage you to talk it out if that is what you need to do to process. Work it out if you exercise to process. Whatever it is my dear friend, you deserve to grieve.

Secondly, I want to encourage you to not fear something because it may involve the grief process. Life isn’t easy. Letting go of places, people, jobs, animals, etc. isn’t easy even if it is needed. But I can tell you from experience it is worth it.

And it is with my grandpa’s words in my head and heart saying he believed in what I was doing that remind me that my first duty is to allow myself the room to grieve so that I can walk with others through their grief.

Erica

Why I’m thankful to be the nurse of cancer patients

Last night I had a dream. In the dream all the sudden a pediatric psych unit appeared at my current job and they took me from being a chemo nurse to being a pediatric psych nurse. All I kept saying was “but I’m a chemo nurse!”

I love my job. Even on the toughest days I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point in my career.

Just a few weeks ago in the span of 48 hours in my work e-mail we had 6 obituaries of patients. Since then there have been a few more to follow. Many of these were moms with young children. My heart broke for these families, especially as the holidays approach they will face a new emptiness.  That isn’t easy.

But despite what many may think, my job is not always sad news. Recently I have also had the privilege to dance and give big hugs to many patients as their news has been “the scan shows no evidence of residual disease”. I think at times I may be almost as nervous as the patients and their families as we await the results of the scans.

Both sides  of my job I will remember for years to come. These patients touch my life in more ways than they could ever know.

I’m thankful to be gifted with the opportunity to work with such an incredible population of people.

Here is a list of what they teach me everyday:

1. They teach me what it looks like to be brave. Whether this is in plowing forward even when there seems to be no hope or breaking down in tears and letting the fact that they are having a bad day shine through.

2.  They teach me what it is like to balance getting weekly chemo, working part time, and being the primary caregiver for their kids.

3. Their family members teach me what it truly looks like to serve one another.

4. I get to see some of the strongest marriages that exist. It is incredible what a powerful team can fight together.

5. They teach me how to be real. How to talk about insecurities and be ok with them.

6. They teach me how to be honest.

7. They teach me what it means to live each day to its fullest.

8. They teach me what it means to fight with all the strength one has,

9. They teach me grace in letting go.

10. They teach me what really matters in the day to day life.

11. They remind me that the only moment we have is right now.

12. They teach me what grace in suffering looks like.

13. They teach me that scars are beautiful

14. They teach me that life is a gift.

15. They teach me how to laugh and smile amidst the trial.

I could go on and on. But I won’t. At the end of the day the air I breathe seems a bit sweeter. The health of my family and friends seems a much bigger blessing. I hang on a bit longer to that hug of a loved one. I forgive quicker. I embrace the struggles in life as learning points. I worry less about the small things. I am more careful about how I spend my time. I love more deeply.

To each of the cancer patients and their families out there, know that I feel incredibly blessed to walk through this tough journey with you.

This Thanksgiving, let’s all take a little more time to focus on the things that do matter and focus less on the things that don’t matter. Let us each reach out to those people who are struggling through the Holidays and help them to feel loved if even only for a moment. Let us forgive our families and hug them tighter. Let us take more pictures and laugh harder.  And let us all continue to walk through this journey called life one more brave step at a time.

Erica

Dear Ovarian Cancer Patient

Dear Ovarian Cancer Patient,

It was with you that I got to start my nursing career.  It was your cancer that I first got to know at an in depth  view. I was there with you has you came back from your TAH/BSO and whatever else they felt needed to be done. As you rolled up to the floor from the PACU in so much pain I was immediately running to get pain meds.  I was there with you as you could barely keep your eyes open from the pain medication but you were also anxiously waiting to see what the doctors found in your abdomen.  I was there with you holding your hand as the doctors told you it was cancer.  I was there holding your hand as we rejoiced over the news it hadn’t spread.  I was also there holding your hand as you were told it had spread farther than they had thought.  I was the one annoyingly asking you to sit on the side of your bed when the thought of even lifting your hand was terrifying. Because a nursing manager took a chance on me as a new grad, I was there in your world… walking with you… and learning about how hard a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is.

 Source

At a very young age cancer was part of my vocabulary.  Before I was even born my paternal grandma battled ovarian cancer and lost. It is such a rare diagnosis, and is so hard to detect.

I’ve been a few places since that first job.  But I still walk with you.  Now my job is to walk with you day in and day out as you deal with chemo.  As you get your scans back.  I’m still there holding your hand through good news and bad news. And I’m so thankful for the opportunity to walk with you through your battle.  Thank you, ovarian cancer patient, for letting me walk with you. To learn so much about love, drive, and fight through your own battle. To learn what it means to have grace. To learn what it means to be hopeful in the hardest of situations.

It is for you I am writing this blog.  To get the word out there about ovarian cancer.  Together, let’s fight this thing!

With greatest gratitude,

One of your nurses

Quick Facts and Figures:

* 1 in 72 Women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her life (ovariancancer.org)
* It is the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths in women (ovariancancer.og)
* Most women are diagnosed in late stage which has a lower survival rate

More Information about Ovarian Cancer:

Test and Diagnosis outline

CA 125’s Potential for Earlier Detection

Potential signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

Facts and Figures of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer Statistics

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