Educating Your Way Through Cancer

Knowledge is power, and using that is vital on the cancer journey.

Six years ago, I knew virtually nothing about cancer. Fast forward to today and I am a nursing student who has been working in the field of oncology for almost four years now. It was not instantaneous to get from when she was diagnosed to now. It took a lot of work but more than anything, it required a lot of research. Even before cancer, I used to fear the unknown and that fear only grew with cancers presence. I wanted answers and there were many times that when given answers, they were not the answers that I wanted to hear. The nurses did their best to help me understand, but I frequently did not understand and fathom what I was being told.

In those cases, I searched. I wanted answers and I was not content when I did not find them. Even when I did find them, I wanted different answers and so I kept searching. The thing about cancer is that while you wait for scans, and doctors and appointments and for treatments to work- you have copious amounts of time. It was during that time that I turned to google and Medscape and any other resources that I could to locate answers. To educate myself about her disease, about treatments, about medications and about cures.

I was relentless and there were times that I would ask her night nurses questions that they did not have answers too. I wanted to know everything that I could because I thought that if I knew everything, nothing would come as a surprise. That is obviously not how things turned out and regardless of how beneficial it proved to be for my sister, I do not recommend it to others. There is a line and I crossed it. Although I did not believe it as the time, I realize now that you can over-educate yourself.

I am a big proponent of researching and learning your disease. I am not suggesting that you not partake in treatment or not look up anything in relation to cancer. The power of technology is a great thing, it can also turn into a bad thing. Nearly anything that one is looking for can be found on the internet. I remember when my sister was incredibly sick that I would scour the web in hopes of finding a case just like hers that had a happy ending. And I did find several and while they provided hope, they also provided a false reality. Reading stories that were like hers, I tried to convince myself that hers would be like theirs and that simply is not true. Yes, her story did have a happy ending, but the fact is, not all cancer stories are created equal and they do not all have happy endings.

I gave time that I could have spent with her to research. I gave up sleep when I could have been getting the rest that I needed as a caregiver. I sacrificed time with friends and family seeking answers to problems that were not mine to solve as a 23-year-old. I made a choice to seek answers and to try to solve the problem that was cancer. I do not regret what I did because it not only helped my sister, but it also helped shaped me into who I am today.

I learned during that time that it is important to be an advocate for those who are unable or chose to not use their voice. I learned from her nurses that the job of a nurse goes far beyond what we learn in school. I will carry those lessons and so many more learned through my time caring for my sister will greatly influence how I practice medicine when I become a nurse. And as much as I have learned my own lessons, I hope that those reading this take away that no matter how hard you want to, you cannot educate your way out on cancer.