Talking With Our Eyes: Communicating After a Cancer Diagnosis

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

Finalist for the 2015 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing: Beverly M. Moser, RN, BSN, OCN [Rose Quarter Compass Oncology in Portland, Oregon]

Beverly M. Moser, RN, BSN, OCN (left) with Aghdas Ashtari - PHOTO BY SARA VANDEPAS

WHEN I FIRST GOT THE NEWS about being diagnosed with stage I cancer, I was numb for weeks.

I couldn’t talk, walk or even eat. I kept thinking about my life and how unfair this disease was to me. I thought I had my share of pain by enduring more than what many people usually endure together: losing my father at the age of 4, being raised away from my siblings, losing a child, and so much more that I can’t talk about here.

But life has different plans for people, and doesn’t wait for us to get prepared for what’s coming our way. All I remember from those days is that I was paralyzed from fear and pain. I was away from all of my children except one.

She is my older daughter and has two young children. She was crushed between school, work, raising her kids and taking care of me. A lot of times, my 2-year-old grandson fell asleep in her arms when she was waiting for me in the hallways of hospitals. She fed her baby and sang him to sleep in the waiting rooms of clinics so she could check on me when I was hospitalized. My son-inlaw told me that she cried a lot at night.

I hid my pain from her since she had more than she could bear. I didn’t want her to know anything about my health. I couldn’t tell her that I hated the smell and taste of everything she brought me to eat. That my esophagus, throat, stomach and intestines were sore and hurt so badly. She didn’t know that I wasn’t able to hold my urine anymore.

And that’s when Beverly, my angel, came into the picture. I speak very little English, but Beverly needed no English and always read my mind. We mostly talked with our eyes. She knew I was scared and lonely. She always went above and beyond to make me comfortable. She saw I couldn’t eat the store-bought food. As soon as my daughter would leave, Beverly showed up with a box of Ensure, warm soup, hot tea or juice.

I hated the big scary room that looked like a warehouse where I received my chemotherapy. I couldn’t communicate with others, and that made me even more miserable. But after a while, entering the warehouse wasn’t scary anymore since she was always waiting for me. After caring for hundreds of cancer patients over the years, she needed no words. I don’t remember entering a room without being hugged by Beverly first. Although she had many patients to take care of, she never forgot about me. Every time she passed my station she had something for me. A magazine, the hat and scarf basket, a warm blanket or her beautiful smile.

I have been poked for blood draws hundreds of time since I started the treatment. She had a gentle touch and made the long and terrible procedure of chemotherapy a lot easier. In the past, I had to beg the nurses to use numbing spray since a lot of them were new and weren’t good at finding my veins. A couple of times when Beverly saw others torturing me trying to find a vein, she jumped in to my rescue and asked them to let her take care of me.

I don’t know where I would have been today if I hadn’t met Beverly. She made me the most comfortable I could possibly be and gave me hope. She is the kindest nurse I have ever met in my life. Our world needs more people like Beverly. People who don’t wait for you to ask for help. People who can treat others with kindness even when they know they can’t possibly receive anything in return for what they are doing. I know I might not have received the extraordinary care I received from Beverly even if I had gone through the treatment in my homeland close to my children. Not all of us are able to be kind to those who are very different from us.

I was never able to thank Beverly properly. I only knew how to say “thank you!” in English. I hope she wins and gets to read this letter that I wrote and my daughter translated from Farsi to English. If I could, I would have purchased a ticket for her to take a nice vacation, but since I can’t afford it right now, I am nominating her for this contest instead.

Communicating Without Words: An Interview With Beverly M. Moser, RN, BSN, OCN

BEVERLY M. MOSER, RN, BSN, OCN, never doubted that she wanted to be a nurse — just not an oncology nurse.

“My experience in oncology in nursing school was people throwing up, and I said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to do that as an established nurse.”

So, for the first four years of her nursing career, Moser stayed as far away from oncology as she could in the general medical unit of the hospital until a nurse in the oncology unit asked her for some help when they were shorthanded. That was 29 years ago, and she’s still there.

“I didn’t choose oncology,” she says. “It chose me.”

What she found was a specialty where she could know the patients and their families from the day of diagnosis — really know them — and help them with symptom management and nausea and all the other problems that arise during the cancer journey. But more than just the medical issues, she can connect with them on all levels

“What I love is really helping them with all aspects of their lives. Getting to ask how their child is who graduated because I worked with the doctor to rearrange their treatment so they could go to graduation.” Moser says she has watched the advances in cancer treatment and now can tell her patients that she hopes the first line treatment works, but if it doesn’t there is something else to try.

“We can give patients longevity and good quality of life.”

When Moser met Aghdas Ashtari, she was newly diagnosed with lymphoma and full of questions that a lack of English made difficult to answer. Luckily, her husband was there, Moser says, so she was able to communicate not only with hugs and eyes but through her husband. She learned the Aghdas was a midwife in her home country of Iran and that three of her children were still there.

Unfortunately, Moser says, she and Aghdas are again seeing each other regularly as Aghdas has returned to treatment for a recurrence. But again, Moser said the eye contact they have developed allows her to understand what is needed, medical or otherwise.

Moser has just helped Aghdas get a letter from the doctor that will help her son leave Iran for a visit with his mother. It’s the part Moser loves about being an oncology nurse.