MANY TIMES IN LIFE, things take an unexpected turn. We plan our days and weeks and our whole lives in our minds. March 9, 2011, was one of those days for me; just a typical day in the life of Kayleigh Coupe.
BUT MARCH 9, 2011, ended up being the day my doctor told me I had cancer. Complicating things further, I was told I had a very rare tumor type and that local treatment was not going to be an option. After consulting with my family, we decided to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
When I had my first consult in New York, the doctor told me my prognosis was good since this rare tumor type was very treatable, with 85 percent responding well to the front-line chemotherapy regimen. But mine didn’t. A few months after my chemotherapy had ended, the tumor recurred.
It was then I was referred to Dr. Darren Feldman at Sloan Kettering, and it was there I met Amanda Hughes, RN, MSC, OCN. I did not know it at that time, but Amanda would soon be much more to me than just another medical professional. Over the next four months, Amanda would at times become an extra parent, a cheerleader, a coach, a mentor and a comedian. I would soon realize I needed all of these in my life.
Amanda Hughes, RN, MSC, OCN
The next line of chemotherapy was a difficult one; high-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell transplant. This required me to live more than 200 miles from home and stay in New York during the four-month treatment cycle. Before treatment could start, I had to go through a procedure to harvest the oocytes from my ovaries as the high-dose chemotherapy could potentially destroy them. After that, my own blood stem cells would need to be collected, which required a central venous catheter (CVC) to be inserted. Finally, once enough blood stem cells were collected, the high-dose chemotherapy could begin.
Amanda was the medical compass that guided me through all of these procedures. Early on, all of this was very overwhelming and confusing. Each specialist had his or her own area to cover, but Amanda seemed to be the one person who could put it all together for me and explain what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, why it needed to be done and what I should expect. She was the one person who made me feel that I was still in control and yes, I can do this.
On many occasions, Amanda went the extra mile for me. One small example that was hugely important to me was her willingness to stop what she was doing to do a blood draw for me. My veins are very, very small, and it is always a major problem when a phlebotomist tries to do a blood draw. It takes longer than usual and after being poked with a needle many times, it is very painful. Blood could be easily drawn from the CVC, but a phlebotomist cannot do that, it requires an RN. Amanda volunteered that any time I needed blood drawn, I could ask them to call whatever floor she was on and she would come down and do the blood draw through my CVC. It seems small, but it was huge to me and she knew that.
Amanda also taught me to be as independent as possible, showing me how to properly do a sterile dressing change on my catheter and how to properly measure my outputs in the hospital so I did not need to have to call for assistance every time I wanted to use the bathroom. With the amount of hydration chemotherapy patients receive, visits to the bathroom are frequent. Again, these things may seem small, but when your entire world seems to be in the hands of others, every little piece of independence feels like a milestone towards winning the battle.
A few days after finishing a chemotherapy cycle, my platelet counts would be very low and I was susceptible to infection and would have difficulty clotting if any bleeding started. One day, as I was on my way to the clinic for hydration, I developed a nose bleed. I could not get the bleeding to stop, and I was soon convincing myself that this was serious, and I was probably going to die this way. When I finally arrived at the clinic in somewhat of a panic with several blood-soaked tissues around my nose, the first person to see me was Amanda. She simply looked at me and smiled and said, “Didn’t your mother tell you not to pick your nose?” In an instant, I realized I was going to be all right after all.
My experience with Amanda over those four months in early 2012 gave me enough examples to fill 20 pages. She always reminded me of where I was in my treatment plan, how far I had come already and gave me strength and encouragement to continue all the way to win my battle with cancer. She was always reassuring, she was always smiling, she always got me the answer to my questions, she always had time for me and she was always there for me when I needed her. She never let me down. Sloan Kettering has over 12,000 employees, and for someone my age, such a huge organization can be overwhelming. Amanda made it easy and made it personal.
Cancer treatment interrupted my studies at nursing school. Now with my life back on track, I expect to become a registered nurse myself in the summer of 2014. Amanda’s inspiration to me as a patient will soon serve as an inspiration in my goal to become a great nurse. In times of doubt, I only need to ask myself, “What would Amanda do?”