Lillian Arleque, Ed.D.
From left: Lillian Arleque, Ed.D., and Jade Hering, B.S.N., RN, OCN - PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA AUGUST
For close to six years, I was a “watch-and-wait” patient in the hematology and oncology department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Because I was asymptomatic, I would meet with my hematologist several times a year so he could monitor my disease progression. For my own emotional survival, I detached myself from the reality of the cancer diagnosis by making myself a “project.” I went for a second opinion. I mastered the portal. I became familiar with an alphabet soup of acronyms. I joined organizations. I read research, and I even found a Facebook page for patients with a similar diagnosis. Essentially, all that I was doing helped me to emotionally dissociate from the inevitable and terrifying possibility of having to face treatment in the future.
Then, in August 2017, everything changed. Being told that you need to start treatment for an indolent and extremely rare lymphoma is a memorable experience and definitely not the best day of your life.
For many years, I had been oblivious to the other activities in hematology and oncology. Despite my many appointments, I had never even seen the infusion area. Yet here I was, on the brink of being forced to face a new reality. Fear and apprehension crippled my thinking. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, short or long term. Would it be painful? Would I get sick? Would all this help me feel better? And, most important, would I have the courage and fortitude to face this new life challenge?
Then I met Jade Hering. There is so much that is special about her. From my perspective, there really aren’t enough adjectives to describe how she helped me maintain a positive attitude and a sense of calm during the treatments. No matter what time we arrived, Jade would come out to the waiting room to greet us and assure us that she would be ready when we were finished with the doctor. Her sincere acknowledgment, her warm smile and her words of genuine concern for my well-being made me feel more at ease and lessened my anxiety about my upcoming treatment.
Early on in my diagnosis, I met a woman in the waiting room who told me how much she hated just walking through the door. I understood her reaction. After all, when you link a negative experience — like a cancer diagnosis and treatment that makes you sick — to a specific location, it is natural to feel anxiety and uncertainty every time you go there. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as an “anchor” — i.e., you anchor emotions and feelings (negative or positive) to a specific location. Just before my first cycle, I also had feelings of panic and dread, but once you know that you are being cared for by an oncology nurse like Jade, those negative emotions are mitigated.
So, how did that emotional transformation happen? After all, I still needed to go through the infusions and the discomfort of the experience. Yet somehow, the anchor that is Jade soothed and calmed my feelings of panic and dread. Instinctively, through her very presence, Jade was able to set a tone of security and compassion that ultimately diminished my feelings of uncertainty and trepidation.
When I went into the infusion area with Jade, she made me feel welcome, almost as if I was visiting a good friend’s home. She was a gracious host. Her goal was to make me feel comfortable and calm. When she prepared to access my port, she cleverly engaged me in conversation to distract me. She referenced topics that we had discussed and queried me about my current well-being and past issues. She was doing an assessment. Jade had mastered the art of multitasking.
Her enthusiasm for her work was obvious through her diligence and demeanor. Jade constantly scrutinized me, looking for ways to provide support for both my physical and emotional needs. Her presence around me exuded warmth and gentleness, yet she consistently maintained the highest level of professionalism and competence. Jade always asked if I wanted a warm blanket — what an appropriate metaphor for the emotional comfort that she provided.
As a curious patient, I often asked Jade questions. When she shared technical information with me, she made me feel like a partner with her, rather than a neophyte. If she sensed that I might not grasp a concept, she would ask questions to clarify my understanding. As a natural educator, Jade intuitively summarized key points and often supported her coaching with written documentation. Her conscientious approach was also evidenced in the accuracy and specificity of her notes on the portal.
I was always Jade’s priority, yet she sought to make my husband feel welcomed in the treatment area. She was keenly aware that he and I were partners in this life challenge, and she demonstrated her respect by making eye contact with the both of us. I also appreciated that we were able to laugh together. Her sense of humor was spontaneous, and her laughter was contagious — we had many lighter moments that made the time pass quickly.
Throughout my life, I have trained myself to look for the positive aspects of every challenging situation. During my recent treatment for lymphoma, I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Jade as an extremely competent oncology nurse, as well as a magnanimous and endearing human being. She has been one of the most positive aspects of my illness. In fact, she has been a life blessing.