Oncology nurses are there for nearly every step of a patient's cancer journey, but along the way, they can help illuminate life's beauty.
I have found it very difficult to write anything about Daria Mlynarski, B.S.N., RN, OCN, for words are so meaningless in describing the person and the nurse that she is. Who she is and what she does are intertwined, and we are gifted with one of the most intelligent, compassionate, humble and hardworking nurses I have had the great pleasure of knowing. Almost a year and a half after my father’s passing, my mother and I continue to be grateful for the care and love Daria and the wonderful nurses at 4C showed for my father and my family.
My father courageously fought acute leukemia for 14 months in four hospitals and under the care of countless doctors and nurses. The uncertainty and aggressiveness of the disease were made worse by my parents’ inability to communicate in English and our lack of family support because of our immigration to the United States a few years ago. I had to learn early on to assertively advocate for him and teach myself everything I could about the disease, its behavior and its treatment and the side effects of every medication.
I was determined to place his care in my own hands, not only because I wanted him to live, but also because along the way, I lost trust and faith in the medical community that was often overworked due to many patients with countless questions. I believed that my love was going to be enough to save him, and I was going to do so by controlling every step I could, by relying only on myself and often not trusting the care team. I was wrong.
My father’s last month of life was spent in 4C for reinduction chemotherapy after a failed stem cell transplant. This was not the first time we met the wonderful team at 4C, for my father had been admitted there before. The first time, Daria was the assigned nurse, and I remember my father commenting in our language about how intelligent and precise she was. That was not a compliment that he gave freely, and I smiled looking at Daria while she, paying attention to every detail around her, was trying to understand what was going on.
She knew how to understand my father’s needs and body language, how to communicate with him while speaking a different language and how to care for the pain that he, the proud man that he was, would often not share he was having. She knew what he was feeling, she knew him and she knew us, and she became family when we had no one else to comfort us.
She is exceptional at what she does, and her gifts and professionalism are supported by an equally caring team. Although my father was her patient, she showed love and understanding to my mother and me, and we never felt that we were alone in this fight.
I cried in Daria’s arms the night we took my father into intensive care for the last time. She, being Daria, told me what to expect without taking my hopes away and taught me how to fight without giving up. I cried in her arms and the arms of every 4C nurse for the next four days as my father was slowly passing away. The night that he died, my mother and I were surrounded by the nurses of 4C. Daria was not working that day, but I felt her with me. I was comforted by the care she had shown my dad during the last month — the joyfulness, the smiles, the long talks and all the extra time she took to tell us stories and help us believe in miracles and love.
While we were surrounded by white, cold hospital walls, she showed us a world full of colors and how beautiful life can be.
I cried, even more, the night that my father passed away because the world had lost such greatness and everything was going to be darker. It took me months to understand and accept that, by meeting Daria and the team of 4C, life had taught me that my father was leaving behind a trail of great people, and my parents and I were lucky to have met them, despite the circumstances. And what a way to leave this world, under the presence and care of Daria and her team! How were we ever so blessed?
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