I hold tight to the belief that I am a survivor who is living with, not dying from, metastatic breast cancer.
IT’S HARD TO FIND a silver lining when you’ve been told you have cancer for the second time. This is my life now. I hold tight to the belief that I am a survivor who is living with, not dying from, metastatic breast cancer. This helps provide the balance, hope and gratitude I try to find in every moment and with each person who is a part of my life and recovery.
MOST ARE FAMILIAR AND CONSTANT, others newer and less certain. After being diagnosed in April of 2012, I decided to pursue aggressive treatment at my local hospital. My initial impressions of the oncology unit and staff left me feeling uncertain and anxious, as I found myself comparing the stellar care I had received on the East Coast with my first breast cancer diagnosis 14 years earlier. I felt let down. As a practicing clinician for close to 30 years, I have to admit that I have very high standards for the care I give, as well as receive.
Within a short time after starting treatment, I realized the “fit” wasn’t right with both the oncologist I had been assigned to and the oncology nurse that had been caring for me. I knew this time around that I needed to be both mentally and physically prepared for the hardest battle I had ever fought, and l knew with even more certainty I needed a team of warriors who would always be by my side throughout treatments that would never finish.
PHOTO BY ELMER ESCOBAR
Teresa Gonzalez, RN
Within the first few minutes of meeting her, I knew on a deep level that she was a perfect fit, a kindred spirit. This continues to be the case after nearly two years. There are so many qualities that come together to make Teresa unique and special.
From the beginning, her professionalism and expertise in oncology care was evident, and this put me at ease as I came to understand and accept my need to let go of control and trust her to do the job she knew so well how to do. Her personality was much like my own: strong-willed, intelligent, focused, competent and efficient, with a big dose of kindness and compassion to soften the edges.
I felt, and still feel, safe in her care, and this allows me to return again and again for the treatment I dread but so desperately need. Each Monday and Tuesday when I arrive for my blood work and chemotherapy, I am greeted with her warm and welcoming smile, and her never-ending array of eclectic, brightly colored scrub uniforms, quirky socks and festive caps.
I learned early on that she has great adoration for the Winnie-the-Pooh character Tigger, whose plush animals, stickers and other accoutrements don her personal nurse’s supply cart. I feel my spirits lift when l hear her rolling cart make its way down the hallway toward my room, with bouncy and smiling Teresa following closely behind. She almost always saves me one of the coveted large treatment rooms, where I settle in as she welcomes my support people, dims the overhead lights, and offers me water and hot tea, a warm blanket and words of encouragement.
Her intuition allows for the right balance of a comforting presence, without being overly intrusive. She knows the details of my care and treatment, but never fails to check and recheck my information and treatment protocol to ensure safety and accuracy. With each visit, she reviews my day-to-day symptoms and remedies, lab values, treatment plans and upcoming appointments.Teresa has been known to call and check in on me at home with new lab results, after an especially hard chemo day or when I’ve received difficult news.
Our relationship has seasoned, and over time,Teresa and I have begun opening up to one another. Me sharing my fears, sadness and uncertainties with being a mother of three with advanced cancer, and she with the loss and grief she lives with after losing her brother to cancer last year. I deeply believe these experiences, although hard to give voice to, have allowed us to transcend a level of intimacy and caring that flows directly into the work she does with me, as well as many other patients who are equally fortunate to be cared for by this incredible woman.
When Teresa has a day off, or happens to be assigned to another patient on the same day I have my treatment, things just don’t feel the same for me. This is not to say that the other nursing staff are not competent or qualified, there is simply no one who comes close to replacing her. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for her presence in my life and for the many gifts she shares by just being her wonderful self. For this, I remain grateful and feel blessed that we are sharing this cancer journey together. She deserves every recognition for her excellent and compassionate oncology nursing care, and for being one of my lifelines. These things, and more, are why she matters so much.