Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#16 in a series)
Their demeanor and level of empathy have a direct impact on your own state of mind. Their knowledge and degree of professionalism can be a matter of life and death. Nurses are on the front lines of every facet of health care.
Our main experience with nurses is generally at the doctor’s office. They greet us and lead us to the examining room. They ask questions and take our blood pressure and weight. They are a part of the routine easily overlooked in the shuffle, as we patients concern ourselves with making good use of our time with the doctor and the mundane matters of health insurance and medical bills.
Then comes the health crisis — the big injury, the life-threatening illness, the trip to the hospital — and everything changes. Nurses suddenly become a very important part of our lives, and they have the power to change everything about how we cope with that crisis.
For me, triple-negative breast cancer is the crisis that pushed nurses into the spotlight of my health care. From the first visit to my breast surgeon’s office, through surgery and other hospital procedures, and through more than six months of chemotherapy, nurses were front and center.
Nurses were the ones who saw to it that I received the correct medications in just the right doses. Nurses were the ones to double and triple check, making sure I was the patient who matched their chart. In between doctor visits, nurses answered my questions and gave advice on how to overcome symptoms and side effects.
Above and beyond the call of duty, nurses asked what my weekend plans were, what book I was reading, and if I saw the latest movie. They chatted me up or touched my hand to distract from less pleasant happenings. They intuitively offered blankets and something to drink just when I needed them.
Nursing is a profession that carries awesome responsibilities and a high level of stress. Despite that, most nurses manage to treat their patients as whole human beings, responding to their emotions as well as their physical symptoms.
Sometimes the simple act of looking a patient in the eye and offering a smile is all it takes to make that difference. So I offer a heartfelt thank you to all the nurses who made a difference in my life during my treatment for cancer.
That thank you extends beyond my own treatment, because I’ve had the good fortune to observe nurses tending to others. Thank you to nurses who dispense hugs to patients who seem so alone; to nurses who put their own troubles aside in order to care for others; to nurses who stay a little longer and work a little harder because of staffing shortages; to nurses who remain calm despite the chaos that sometimes erupts around them; to nurses who keep doing what they do, day after day and year after year. That takes a certain kind of dedication and purpose.
I want those nurses to know that what they do matters. Even though I can’t remember all their names, I remember their faces. I remember their eyes. I remember their kindness. That kindness is as powerful as the medicine they practice.
If there’s a badge of honor to be awarded, my vote goes to the nurses.
Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
#1 The Lump in my Breast: Meeting the Enemy
#2 Most Breast Lumps are Non-Cancerous: Would mine be?
#3 The Mammogram, the Ultrasound, and ‘the Look’
#4 The Biopsy and Breast Cancer Confirmation
#5 A New Twist: It’s Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
#6 Before the Mastectomy: Planning for the Future
#7 Mastectomy Day: What it’s like to lose a breast
#8 After the Mastectomy: Unveiling and Staging
#9 10 Odd Things to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer
#10 Cancer Battle Plan Phase 2: Chemotherapy
#11 5 Things I Love About my Very Expensive Health Insurance
#12 10 Simple Gestures of Kindness with Healing Power
#13 Half a Year on Chemotherapy and Taking Nothing for Granted
#14 Breast Cancer Treatment: Weighing Reward and Risk
#15 The Radiation Decision, The Long Road, The Badge of Honor
Access all posts in the Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis.” She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo