A caregiver describes the imprint her daughter’s oncology nurses left on her heart.
When my daughter, Adrienne, and I went to chemotherapy teaching, they were very clear about the importance of us understanding the threat of even a minor infection when the chemotherapy drugs took out her immune system as they were attacking her cancer. We were given a special card to show to emergency room staff to make sure that if she presented with a fever, we would be fast-tracked into a treatment area because time is of the essence. Like many patients undergoing cancer treatment, we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry and began to live pretty much in isolation, only leaving the house when it was necessary to buy food or go to an appointment.
An outcome of that choice was that going to the oncology clinic for chemotherapy was one of the few times that we went out, so on treatment days as long as she felt up to it, we would dress up to go to the hospital, Adrienne matching her head coverings to outfits and jewelry, and me putting together a casual “going out for lunch with friends” ensemble and fixing my hair just so. We both knew that if we felt good on the outside, it boosted what was going on with our insides. And sometimes our insides were a pretty desperate affair, so it made a huge difference walking in for her to get hooked up to the IV knowing we were put together head to toe.
And once she was in the chair, the nurses on the oncology ward became our social network. They were the only group of people in our lives who didn’t look at her like a patient with cancer. We asked what they had done on the weekend and they shared stories of standing in water, fishing, laughing about the big one that got away. Sometimes Adrienne would bake for them, and if one of the nurses had not been there when the brownies were devoured, she’d tease my girl about making sure something came in with her name on it the next time.
There was one nurse who was two weeks older than Adrienne who was entering into a new relationship and the two of them would giggle about something the new guy had done or said. They all called me “Mom” instead of Mrs. Legault, because they could see that being Adrienne’s mom was the most important thing in my life at that moment in time. And when that last bag finished dripping into Adrienne’s arm, two of them hugged both of us with the joy that came with knowing she had made it through, despite the aggressive treatment. She had toughed out the side effects and completed the grueling regimen that gave her the best shot at success.
Choosing a career in a profession like oncology takes a very special type of person, because they are working with people who are dealing with one of the worst times in their lives every single day. The group of nurses that treated my daughter were magical unicorns to me. They weren’t falsely cheerful. They were human beings sharing my child’s trauma, understanding how her body had betrayed her and doing all they could to make her feel like just a girl, not a girl with cancer. Week after week, they made it possible for me to sit in that chair and not scream at the top of my lungs as they infused what felt like poison into Adrienne’s veins.
I will be eternally grateful to them for making those 20 weeks bearable. They will never know how much their presence meant or how I could never have done it without them. I thanked them, of course, but no words that I could ever say would be enough.
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