Helping Me "Take Charge" After Cancer
An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Sarah Rowe, RN, OCN [ Florida Cancer Affiliates in Panama City, Florida ]
BY Jim Berrey
PUBLISHED October 01, 2016
I first met Sarah Rowe in 2010. I had stage 3 multiple myeloma with amyloidosis caused by light chains (abnormal antibodies) and was undergoing chemo treatment, whose side effects seemed worse than the cancer. A complete blood transfusion did not agree with me, and I ended up in the hospital in a coma. I came out of the coma five days later, with no body functions, “chemo brain" and damaged lungs. The hospital doctor could not understand why I would not want to continue a life with no body functions, unable to do anything without help. Eight months later, still with very limited body functions, but a little stronger, I began another treatment and once again started my weekly visits to see Sarah for my chemo injections.
Sarah had been keeping up with me during the whole time and knew how I felt. She knew that I had always been “in charge” during my 24 years in the military, as well as my civilian employment as a supervisor at the local TV station. So now, having a life where I had to depend on others to take care of me was very difficult. Sarah took a special interest in working with me to gain a more positive attitude, something she knew that I had lost.
With my caregiver and wife Barbara working on my faith and joining up with my nurse Sarah, working on more than my treatment, my outlook began to change for the better. It took a while, but I could not help but begin noticing how Sarah was there for her patients who seemed troubled or just needed someone to listen. I started applying a mind change, and it was not long before my mind became clear, I could walk with a cane and could even write again. Two years later, in October 2013, Sarah told me, “Mr. Berrey, you are a normal person once again” — words I will never forget.
It is difficult for some to understand how a problem like this could be a life changer. I understand that now, as I never thought of it until it happened to me. In my heart, I know if not for the team that worked together, my caregiver Barbara and my nurse Sarah, I would not have been able to have a life again. I still have some disabilities, which do not bother me much anymore, as I now have better days. As for the bad days, they ended in October 2013. I started talking more (something I never had trouble with), and after a time, my oncology doctor told me that I was actually helping patients by getting them to take part in things.
Around this time, I found out about a new myeloma support group that had just started in Panama City, with four or five patients taking part. Sarah told me that a support group can help patients in a way that even doctors cannot and that it can be enormously helpful to patients with cancer and their caregivers. She believed that it could help me, so my wife and I joined the support group, and Sarah also began attending. When we lost our group leader,Sarah helped out. The replacement leaders, a caregiver and her husband, then had to leave for Little Rock when his treatment stopped working. So Sarah stepped in and took over as support group leader.
A year later, Sarah told me that she has always believed that the group leader should be a patient or a caregiver. Yes, Sarah was still working on me, as she knew my background in “taking charge,” and informed me that with my experience, there was no reason for me not to become the leader. Sarah said she would still obtain speakers, inform new myeloma patients of the support group, be available to assist in answering their questions and attend some meetings.
All of Sarah’s patients believe that she is a special person and nurse who has had a definite effect on their lives. I can testify to this, and I cannot thank her enough for helping me overcome the worst three-and-a-half years of my life. I am a very blessed, 81-year-old myeloma patient, married for 61 years, and still see Sarah for my weekly medication injection, which has been working for over four-and-a-half years.
My advice to all patients with cancer and their caregivers is to have faith, a positive outlook, an exceptional caregiver and an extraordinary oncology nurse, and your chance for a better life will double. It is no wonder that nurses are the most trusted occupation in our great country.