Those Blessed Oncology Nurses

It is impossible for this patient to thank just one nurse as the third year in treatment gets underway.

It's hard to believe that I have been living with diagnosed metastatic breast cancer for two years. It often simultaneously seems as though my life before this diagnosis never really existed and that the diagnosis is the unreal part, and my life continues as it always has.

As I've written about before, this is just part of living in the strange world of metastatic breast cancer.

Although I'd be pretty close to the bottom if one was to compile a list of patients who say their lives have been positively changed by cancer, there is an area where that doesn't apply.

Because I'd never really been sick before, my interaction with medical personnel had been limited to those who are relatives and those who guided me during three pregnancies — doctors told you what to do, made sure kids got vaccinated and basically were to be avoided whenever possible. Nurses gave the shots. Mine was an extremely limited point of view.

Two years ago, that changed in short order. The oncologist, through thoroughness or suspicion or just luck (or a combination of all three and then some), found that an error in my diagnosis from a pathology lab at another hospital had incorrectly labeled my type of breast cancer. That mistake meant my chemotherapy treatment would have failed to provide two of the three first-line drugs now often used for HER2+ breast cancer.

I believe it is not too extreme of a sentiment to say that I owe my life — here, living with this disease rather than quickly dying from it —to this event that reassured me in my decision to switch hospitals mid-stride.

But it is the nurses who have my constant gratitude. Unlike so many I read about here on CureToday, I would never be able to thank just one chemotherapy nurse, because I don't have just one.

There is Dawn, who was there my first day of treatment, who told me about her kids when I asked about her life and let me know I was doing just fine with my reactions to the drugs.

And there's Justine, whose so-sweet smile I always look for even when she won't be "my" nurse and who has confidence in her ability to get an IV line going without multiple tries. She was the one who had me on her schedule after a several-days stay in the hospital when my port caused blood clots to form around it and resulted in swelling and a scare on the night of my oldest daughter's high school graduation. Her greeting, once I made my way to the chemotherapy chairs of, "What happened to you?!” -is unlikely be forgotten by me. She stayed calm even as she removed the IV that had been left in place for days in the crook of my elbow. Only later did I learn that she was as unhappy with that IV as I was—dirty (to my eyes) tape surrounding it, bruising, pain and located where a nurse would never "infuse" heavy-duty chemotherapy drugs. It is impossible to express the gratitude I felt for her as she removed that IV and gave me a chance to recover from the fear about the days I had just experienced.

There's Gina, who has kids, but always reminds me of my sister's younger self. It is easy for me to imagine her out with friends and getting into mischief. She too can usually get that IV in, and when she can't, she seems to always turn to a nurse who I know and feel comfortable with. Does she know she's doing that? I've never asked, but how else to explain the consistency of her decisions?

There's Frejya, who, at the very start, switched my bandage around the port and later stepped in when an attempt to get an IV line had reached six tries.

And there are so many more women who I love, although they may not know it. Women I worry about, whose lives I barely know—single, married, pregnant, moving from hospital to hospital, facing illness within their own families, yet always offering unexpected kindness in their presumably stressful workplace.

With the start of my third year in treatment looming, I am so glad to have experienced the work of these women and the thousands like them I will never know. Those blessed oncology nurses.