LONG AFTER THE TREATMENT ENDED, the card lived.
LONG AFTER THE TREATMENT ENDED, the card lived. It lived in my purse, in my Rolodex file and in my kitchen drawer. That little flexible piece of cardboard was more powerful than a credit card, driver’s license or lottery ticket and held such comfort, such reassurance, such hope. That card was the link to my caring nurse, Yvonne Ward.
MY TREATMENT JOURNEY started on a hot day in July 2011 at the breast cancer clinic at the University of Kansas Cancer Center in a nondescript conference room. Nothing stood out in that room to distract me. My bewildered husband was at my side. I had little to stare at but the truth through the eyes of Dr. Sharma, my oncologist. I listened, but only two words stood out during that frank consultation, with “aggressive” being the first word describing my stage 3 ductal carcinoma.
I was shocked. At no time in my 58 years of life had I ever been aggressive in any way until now. I was nonconfrontational by nature, but now I had an aggressive component—and it was cancer. The details droned on with unfamiliar acronyms like HER2, ER and PR, sounding in my numbed brain like an alphabet soup of terms and symbols. I felt how an animal must feel when listening to humans talk. It was a lot of “blah, blah, blah” until an occasional familiar word jumped out like “outside, walk or treat.” Suddenly the second word jumped out: curable. In fact, she said “100 percent curable.” What? How could that be? After all, I have stage 3 aggressive breast cancer. Did I hear her correctly? In my brain, the negativity of the term “aggressive” was battling with the hope of “100 percent curable.” I had a lot to think about.
The next step was to finalize my chemotherapy schedule, and that’s when I got “the card” and Yvonne Ward entered my life. When I first saw her I was intrigued, yet curious. She had a big smile, a shaved head and a bag holding a big red notebook. Why was her head shaved? How could she be so cheerful when she had to deal with cancer patients every day? What is in that oversized notebook?
Bewildered and apprehensive, we followed Yvonne through the maze of cubicles within the massive treatment area while she explained the procedures and showed us one of the cubicles that would be my private haven for several hours at a time. We visited the lounge and snack area. She even demonstrated how I could walk to the restroom with all of my paraphernalia traveling along for the ride. So I thought, “Now, I guess I’m ready.”
But there was more. Yvonne was by my side, showing me the notebook. Now, I would find out the mystery of the red notebook. It was my personal treatment plan, including lists of possible concerns, side effects of the particular chemo cocktail I was receiving and a reputable website I could visit for more information, suggested foods to eat and strategies to make my life more comfortable. The notebook was my bible of hope, and her business card was my lifeline with the phone number I could call with questions, concerns observations or reminders. She made me feel I could call her even when I wasn’t sure if I should. The card was just as important to me as the fleece blanket that kept me warm as I lay in the recliner at home on the days following a treatment session. The card followed me to appointments, to work and to infrequent coffee dates with friends.
Chemo counseling was my first positive experience in this treatment journey. Yvonne made no promises. She was a superb caring professional in every way. She was upbeat and personable. She accepted my crying fits as I stared at the number of chemo rooms and the volume of patients being treated, and later as I examined my lab numbers that ultimately delayed my scheduled treatment and required another unit of blood instead. She made appointments when I was in a panic about an eye infection, gave suggestions to identify the cause of a rash and was a liaison to Dr. Sharma when my anti-nausea meds weren’t helping like I thought they should. She made sure I had signatures and all of the information I needed to file cancer insurance claims.
Some might say she was just doing her job. True, but it was much more than that. Others might say a nurse coordinator couldn’t get close enough to make a profound difference in a cancer patient’s life. I disagree. I had many caring chemo nurses, but each treatment brought yet another smiling nurse. Unlike Yvonne, there was no consistency. I found myself looking for her at every oncology appointment. She remembered us. She followed our journey. She noticed when my hair grew back in an unexpected shade of grey. She cared. I wanted to make her proud as I continued to be a compliant patient and did my part in my yearlong treatment plan. Besides my husband, she was the most positive and predictable factor in my unpredictable road to survival.
Although my treatment has ended, I continue to look for Yvonne at my six-month checkups. I keep track of the glimmer of her smile, that same caring voice and upbeat attitude with the new patients and the length of her hair. Oh yes, she originally shaved her head for a charity cause and continues to keep it closely cropped! She’s still there for me—for all of us.
The three copies of “the card” are still with me. I am staring at the one from my Rolodex as I write this tribute. Yes, it’s only a calling card, but it was also my confidence, my crutch, my hope, my friend on a piece of cardstock: Yvonne Ward, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, my truly extraordinary caring nurse.