NURSES ARE DEFINITELY the unsung heroes of cancer treatment.
NURSES ARE DEFINITELY the unsung heroes of cancer treatment. They are on the frontline and can make the difference between just treatment and healing through treatment. When I first heard about nominating an oncology nurse for going above and beyond, I immediately thought of Amy Hartman.
AMY, ONE OF THE ONCOLOGY/HEMATOLOGY NURSES, went above and beyond for me just by being herself. I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. My treatment after surgery was six rounds of chemo and a year of Herceptin.
It is hard on one’s whole being to become a cancer patient. To face one’s mortality, to lose one’s hair, to feel like you somehow caused the cancer—all of these different aspects come crashing down on you as soon as you hear the word “cancer.” And chemo is the added torture one has to deal with in addition to all the other aspects of cancer.
Plainly stated, going to chemotherapy sucks. No way around it—it sucks. My arm was poked, sometimes just once, sometimes several times, to start the IV. I almost passed out once from the pain and felt like a druggie with my bruised arm at times because I was adamant against getting a port. I felt awful for a few days after my treatment, as well as being exhausted most of the time. And the loss of hair does quite a job on one’s self-esteem.
It came as quite a surprise when I found myself actually looking forward to going to chemo. Sounds pretty crazy, I know, and yet the reason was to see and talk to the nurses, mostly Amy. She helped make chemo day a tolerable day, one where I wasn’t just a sick cancer patient, but a normal person having conversations about many different topics with her. She allowed me to stay connected to myself and not lose myself in the cancer patient role. When we talked, I felt heard by her and felt her genuine interest and concern in me, not just as a cancer patient, but as a whole person. She helped keep me grounded to who I am, to all of me, not just the cancer patient, which is how I often felt during that period.
She provided me with the little added touches to treatment that made all the difference, as well. The one time I almost fainted, she was so present with me, wiping my forehead with a warm washcloth and waiting until I had truly “returned” and the threat of fainting had passed. The time I had a severe, excruciating painful reaction to Emend was another example. Amy responded quickly to my husband’s frantic cry for help, as I almost passed out from the pain. She was able to both calm my husband while also stopping the pain and dealing with the reaction quickly and professionally. Her soothing words and calm explanation of what was happening again helped keep me grounded at a very difficult time. And the time I called and left a cryptic message for her is yet another example. (I wasn’t comfortable telling the operator why I was calling.) Amy immediately called back and spent a significant amount of time with me, answering my question and addressing, again, my whole being.
While I was in treatment, Amy went to Haiti with a medical group to do volunteer work. It was exciting to hear about the preparation, as well as the stories, when she returned. It also sparked a conversation about my own upcoming trip to Cuba to visit my father-in-law, a trip where planning also helped keep me going while in treatment. When she heard I was going, she graciously offered some of the leftover donations to take with me, which was quite a blessing.
In Cuba, I was able to give them to the head of oncology, who is a friend of a friend, at one of the hospitals. The Cuban doctor was thrilled to receive the donations, and again thanks to Amy, I had another opportunity to again not feel like a sick cancer patient, but a human connecting with others, helping others and not feeling so alone during my cancer journey.
Cancer sucks. Cancer treatment sucks, but with compassionate, caring medical providers, such as Amy, it becomes bearable. She made it not only bearable but allowed me to experience treatment, as I hope to experience all of life, as a whole person, connecting to others and feeling heard and understood.