Fully Present in Cancer Treatment: The Greatest Gift

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 9, Volume 9, Issue 1

An Extraordinary Healers essay honoring Miguel Lopez, RN [Arizona Oncology in Phoenix, Arizona]

Miguel Lopez, RN with Bryan Gilpin PHOTO BY BRADFORD JONES

On December 23, 2014, I felt a strange lump in my testicle during my morning shower. It wasn’t there before, so I knew something was wrong. I immediately told a friend, who happened to be an office manager at a urology clinic. She immediately scheduled an appointment for me. I was rushed for an ultrasound the following day. By that afternoon, I had received a not-so-merry Christmas present. On Christmas Eve, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Everything happened really fast after that. Just days later, I had surgery to remove the cancer, and then went through a bevy of x-rays, CT scans and bloodwork to determine whether the cancer had spread to my lymphatic system. It had.

I work as the practice manager for Arizona Oncology, but now I was experiencing the clinic from the patient’s perspective. Although I had known him professionally, this was when I was first personally introduced to Miguel Lopez’s extraordinary work and unique personal performance as an oncology nurse.

The first impression I got when I met Miguel was a tremendous sense of calm. He doesn’t rush to give an answer. He is thoughtful, attentive and fluid with his words. He doesn’t blurt out a quick answer to save time. He will give you the full answer from start to finish. As a patient, I had become used to medical professionals spending a lot of time looking at my chart, results and recent labs more than at me. Miguel took the time to look me in the eye. He took the time to attentively and carefully explain the “nuts and bolts” of what was going to happen in the chemotherapy process, using words and phrases I could understand. He explained each drug and how long each step would take. I really appreciated this, as it put me at ease entering the cancer-fighting process. In short, Miguel gave me a clear picture of what to expect from treatment. Suddenly, things didn’t seem so scary after all.

Miguel was more than just my chemotherapy nurse, he was also my personal educator. He educated me on each of the medical terms in my chart so that I had a better idea of what was going on in my body. As a cancer patient, this is invaluable because we feel completely without control over everything that is happening. The ability to understand the mass of numbers on my reports gave me a sense of understanding and power I didn’t have before.

Cancer is a friends-and-family diagnosis. It’s not something that is isolated to just the patient. I had close friends support me during this process, and Miguel gave them the same respect and access to education that I received. He didn’t withhold important information, and he didn’t divulge information that should not be shared. The amount of information and support he provided to my friends was spot on.Family and friends definitely play key roles in the treatment process, so it’s equally as important for them to be just ays educated as the patient. “Chemo brain” is a real thing. It makes you cloudy. The fact that Miguel understands this was incredibly helpful, because sometimes as a cancer patient you don’t have the energy to even speak or share information with friends and family. So having someone like Miguel to communicate appropriately and in a timely way with family and friends was a life saver.

As a clinic practice manager, I know how busy the nursing staff is out on the floor. It’s amazing how they do such an incredible job shielding the patients from this stress, Miguel in particular. As patients, we have all of these tubes, ports and IVs that make us uncomfortable, not to mention the drugs themselves. Miguel does a really good job of creating a calm and healing environment where patients can just focus on receiving the medicine and getting better.

He not only cares for his patients, he cares for his fellow nurses as well. Miguel does a great job covering for other nurses when needed. I always see him volunteering to stand in and help. In fact, when I am a patient on the floor, I never see him not present. He is present the entire time. You can always find him. Physically, emotionally, mentally, Miguel is always present.

Cancer makes you appreciate each and every moment of life. The diagnosis that you receive reminds you that you are going to die. It may not be today or from cancer, but it definitely reminds you of your mortality. Cancer reminds me to take each day at a time. We are here today. This is what’s happening now, and hopefully it can have a positive influence on tomorrow. Miguel reminds me all the time of this important lesson. Each day he reminds me of what we accomplished in this journey. Looking at the entire chemotherapy cycle can be overwhelming, so you just focus on today. When I would arrive, feeling down in the morning, Miguel helped me through by continually reminding me how much treatment I’d already completed.

Battling cancer has also taught me this: It doesn’t matter if you are age 2 or 52, when you are sick you want your mommy and daddy. It reminds you of your family and close friends, and how important they are in your life. When you are sick, you have both a physical and emotional need for them to be there. So whether you have a heavenly father or an earthly father, that power and overwhelming sense to be near them is stronger than ever. Cancer reminds you of how important they are, and you’d do anything you can to see them. In a way, powerful healers and providers like Miguel step in and serve in this role to help meet this need.

Leo Tolstoy wrote a parable about a king who wanted to know the answers to these three important questions: (1) When is the best time to act? (2) Who is the most important person? and (3) What is the most important thing you can do? The king believed that if he knew the answers to these questions, then he would find the key to happiness.

In the work he performs as an oncology nurse every day, Miguel Lopez answers these questions: Today is the most important day to act, it is the only day we have. The most important person is the person you are with. And making that person happy is the most important thing you can do. What could be more important than this?

Most important for me, Miguel was the light that taught me I have the strength and power to continue treatment.