I’VE ALWAYS HEARD of breast cancer survivors, but I never imagined I would become one. Not because I’ve never heard of women beating it, but because I’ve watched my own mom be diagnosed with breast cancer, and then I watched her battle it, and then I watched her lose. Now here I was, faced with my own mortality, and it was only a few years after I had witnessed my mother die before my eyes.
I HAD JUST CELEBRATED my 50th birthday, I had dreams and goals, and everything in my life was coming together according to plan. Little did I know that the universe had some other plans for me, and I would be ringing in the year with breast surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Like my mother, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was divorced, both of my parents were now gone, my daughter had just started college. If there were ever a time where I felt the most alone, it was then.
Iva Morris, RN, MSN, OCN, CNL, with Ilene Tramantano [right]
The journey started off very routine: tests, scans and doctor appointments, and then the intensity picked up. My first surgery was flawless, so when my doctors informed me I needed a second surgery to remove my lymph nodes, I braced myself for a second go at it. When I awoke from surgery, the pain was radiating. I couldn’t believe that this was happening; I wanted to die. There was no one around, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t see this coming.
At that moment, something changed, and in walked Nurse Iva. She headed straight for me, and instantly I felt safe and secure. She pressed the palm of my hand in hers, and I could feel the strength transferring. Just with this nurse sitting by my side, I felt everything was going to be OK.
I was discharged, and as the days went on, I felt weaker. Chemo had its grip on every breath I took. There were some days that I felt defeated. I would look at myself in the mirror and couldn’t help but be reminded of my mother.
Nurse Iva started coming to my house, and it always seemed like perfect timing. Just when I thought I was out of strength, she would be there. Nurse Iva did all the things that I couldn’t do for myself. She cleaned my wounds, ran the clots out of my drain, cooked for me and made sure my medicine was ready for the next day.
The worst part of being sick was I had to force my poisoned body to get up every morning, clear the fog and confusion from my head and go to work. Without me working, my daughter would never be able to finish college, and I knew it. Words cannot describe the exhaustion my body was swimming in. The only thing I can say is, those days that Nurse Iva would be at my home waiting for me after work—that kept me going. I lived for those days, because it was one of the only things that I had to look forward to.
In the beginning, I would come home and crash in my clothes, in the closest spot I could find, but then Nurse Iva got me a chair for my shower. Now when I got home from work, I would let the hot water stream down my back. Sometimes I would try to slow down my thoughts, and sometimes I would cry, but that time in the shower is what Nurse Iva made me do, and I knew it was to cleanse the mind. After my showers, I would collapse on my bed, and Nurse Iva would be there to wrap me with a towel, fresh from the dryer. It was a blanket of warmth wrapping my soul. She would make me a cup of tea and lay out my clothes for the next day. When I felt I could no longer go on, Nurse Iva would look at me and remind me, “Yes, you will. You are not your mother.” And I wasn’t.
I have been in remission for the past 10 years. I am forever grateful to the nurse who walked with me every step of the way, through the darkest days of my life. You see, Nurse Iva is more than just an extraordinary oncology nurse to me. Nurse Iva is my sister. Our mother would have been so proud.