. : Kim Peel (Vancouver)
As oncology nurses we are asked to play an intimate role in the lives of people who are struggling. These struggles are different for each patient, but the reality remains that most people living with cancer have to open up a part of their lives, which would normally remain private, to complete strangers.
Regardless of the outcome of disease progression this intimate relationship leaves its mark on caregivers, providing us all with a mental scrapbook of bits and pieces of other people’s stories that we became a part of. It’s as though we are all guest actors appearing in many different life stories.
In my scrapbook I keep a few clips of one couple in particular that I go back to for solace in my more compelling career crises. When they arrived at the hospital they arrived as a team. Mike* might be receiving the treatment, but they were going through this together. I instantly took to these two and their sheer positivity.
They took on Leukemia with an ease I’d never really seen before. I remember Mike telling me that the fellow that had told him of his diagnosis was so positive about it that he left his office with a smile on his face. The two even decided not to postpone their wedding and ended up getting married on the unit.
It’s not to say the whole experience was ideal. Mike suffered some very serious side effects, but he way he moved forward through each challenge determined to not let it get him down was uniquely effective.
Things actually went quite positively for these two. Mike responded to chemotherapy and his bone marrow transplant and eventually they left the hospital together as husband and wife.
A year later after a few transplant complications, they had the wedding they truly had wanted to have.
Often reviewing our mental scrapbooks can be a painful experience that begs for existential re-evaluation and sometimes we get to see the lighter side. We get to bear witness to the beauty of the human spirit and a little something my niece would refer to, with eloquence beyond her 3 years, as Hakuna Matata.
I have wedding photos in my mental scrapbook and I ask you to consider what memories of success and survivorship that you keep close to you as well. We can tell ourselves that we chose oncology to help make the lives of those living with cancer more comfortable, but let’s promise ourselves to not forget the survivors.
These are the good stories, the heartwarming stories, and the stories that keep us believing. The next time you have a teachable moment, consider how you might promote a plan for survivorship into your practice.Kim Peel, RN L/BMT Program, VGH, Vancouver, BC
*(Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.)