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Facing the Difficult and Important Conversations

When consulting with her team privately, I did my best to maintain my composure. It was not lost on me that we were in that room because my older sister had cancer. And often, we were more specifically in that room because she was not responding to treatments.
PUBLISHED November 23, 2017
Kim is a nursing student who is hoping to find her place amongst the phenomenal oncology nurses and doctors who cared for her sister. She loves reading, volunteering and enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.
There are many doctor consults during the cancer journey. I met with my sister’s health care team both with her present and without her there. Nothing about these consults were easy. Even when good news was given, it did little to bring any sort of peace of mind. With everything seemingly against her gaining remission, it was a waiting game of sorts for the setback that was surely to follow.

When my sister was at her worst, I would consult with her team alone. My sister did not tolerate the principle of dying from cancer and did not care to partake in these meetings. Of the consults had, these were by far the most difficult. Discussing the failures of treatment and the realities that they left was beyond hard.

Despite all that modern medicine had to offer, my sister often was not reaping its benefits. And before her bone marrow transplant, I was faced with the notion that even if it worked, she still had a high chance of recurrence. I did my best to be optimistic, even while understanding that the odds had never been in her favor.

When consulting with her team privately, I did my best to maintain my composure. It was not lost on me that we were in that room because my older sister had cancer. And often, we were more specifically in that room because she was not responding to treatments.

The consult that was most emotional was during the fall of 2015. Nothing seemed to work and every avenue had been exhausted. The future was vastly unclear. For the first time in her oncologist’s office, tears flowed freely as I spoke about what the worsening of her condition might look like, what I hoped could be done for her and how scared I was. It was an honest conversation, but one that I had avoided for quite a long time.

The oncologist promised continued guidance and support from both himself and the many people in her team who had treated her since diagnosis. He promised to help in any and all ways to make whatever the future held manageable. Most of all, he swore to do all he could to ensure that it would be as pain-free as possible. When he was done, I struggled to speak, but once I had collected myself, I thanked him for everything he’d done. I told him how grateful I was for his devotion to not only my sister and her care, but to my family and me.

I often avoided the conversation that was had that day because to speak those words meant that it was all real. While my sister’s cancer was obviously very real, until that moment in time, I had refused to accept that she was dying. But that consult made me better understand that, despite everybody’s best efforts, she could actually die from this disease.

Given that reality, I did not want to simply ignore the bigger issues. Not only was I her sister, but I was also her power of attorney. It was my job to make the decisions that I thought best her for. So, despite how difficult it may have been, I took the chance I had that day to speak heart-to-heart with her oncologist. I’m glad I shared with him what was important for us and how it should play out if the end was coming.

I am lucky to say that it never happened. She is now just about two years in remission. I am beyond grateful to her oncologist, and the sentiment expressed that day remains true. While the things discussed that day did not occur, that doesn’t negate the importance of some of the harder conversations that should and need to be had during the course of cancer.
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