Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
For more than three years, oncology nurses have poked, prodded and put a smile on this patient's face.
A few weeks ago, I met an oncology nurse whose mom, like me, has metastatic breast cancer. Although she was at an event as her mom's chosen caretaker, she was busy collecting and storing away information about side effects and resources. Her plan? To share it all with other oncology nurses.
This is the kind of thing nurses do.
Like parents, teachers, social workers and pastors, it seems that their minds don't wander far from the people they help every day. It was a special moment for me to hear from this nurse about how the oncology nurses at her hospital want to bring more to the conversations they have with patients. Now, I know enough nurses to know they are not infallible. A good nurse, though, even on a bad or busy day, even when her thoughts return to personal worries, can turn a day around for someone like me. If you're a regular in the cancer center, like I have been for nearly three and a half years, my hope is that when you think about returning to the hospital for treatment, there's a moment within the sadness or anger or fear that you see a nurse's smile in your mind and know there's someone there who can help you make it through.
These days, I know the nurses by name. I know who will be successful in getting an IV into my arm, who will try twice and fail, and who will be called over when that happens. I know whose kids swim or play baseball or plan to become nurses themselves. I know the story behind one nurse's lovely first name. I know when they're too busy to talk and what that stressed expression may mean.
While my oncologist has worked hard to help me live with and beyond the dire statistics of metastatic breast cancer, the nurses have made what that entails tolerable. I don't look forward to going to the cancer center every three weeks and being hooked up to bags full of targeted therapies, but I can do it.
I can do it because it keeps my cancer under control. And I can do it because of the nurses. Sometimes, when I forget that the sight of blood makes me lightheaded and that I still need to turn my head away when a needle is laid out for me, I think about how being a nurse could have been such a rewarding career. I regret not choosing something that gives to society. I remind myself to take what nurses bring to my life and spread it around a little - focus, hope, kindness, truth.
I like that there's a nurse appreciation week (it happens to be the week of May 6, 2018) but for someone like me, looking at a lifetime of knowing countless nurses, every week is nurse appreciation week. To the nurses who take the time to talk to patients and those who are silent and focused, the ones who carefully decipher what a patient wants to say when the words are impossible, those who bring the tissues, and those who bring the needles: This patient appreciates you all, every time. Thank you.