I am an oncology nurse. Saying goodbye and grief comes with the job. However, no matter how accustomed I am to this, it is never easy. And no matter how experienced I get with this there are patients who will always leave such a mark on my life that saying goodbye to them will be like losing a part of myself. Today, I said goodbye to one of those patients.
**details have been changed and left out to respect the identity of this patient**
I first met this patient last summer. She was coming to us with her second primary cancer. She is a young mom. She was well versed in the cancer and chemo world already. She is gracious, compassionate, has a beautiful smile, is one of the fiercest fighters I have ever met, and has taught me so much in the last months I have gotten to spend with her. Even if I could share all the details of this patient, I could not clearly put into words what an amazing woman she is.
This patient is one of the ones who hasn’t handled chemo well at all, in fact, she is absolutely miserable with chemo. We had every medication on board possible and every alternative treatment we could come up with, but no matter what the nausea came like clockwork. Despite the nausea though, we together as a team would battle through the chemo with one goal in sight… to give her just a little more time with her children. And just a few months ago when she had a clear scan, we danced and hugged and celebrated together.
The type of cancer she has though is one where over 60% of patients with this cancer die within a year of diagnosis… and patients diagnosed when this cancer had already metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) are normally given only a max of 6 months. This disease is awful. But this brave patient stared it straight in the face and lived beyond that 6 months. Unfortunately though, because her disease is so bad that clean scan didn’t last long…
Last week I saw her for what I now know will be the last time. In my head I knew it would probably be the last time I would see her.. there is a 6th sense you develop after walking with so many people in their last days.. but there is always that twinge of hope… that maybe just maybe things will turn around. But they haven’t and chances are they won’t.
Today her mom called into the clinic stating they wanted to give an update. A few minute later before I could realize what was going on there were 3 of us on speaker phone with her as we said our goodbyes. Her body is shutting down and the cancer is winning. And this woman that has taught me so much in the last few months will soon leave this earthly home for her eternal home. I am so beyond thankful for the absolute amazing opportunity to walk with her through her cancer battle. I am so incredibly thankful for the things she has taught me about life. I said it to her and I mean it, I will remember her for the rest of my life. And some of her final words to me will stick with me forever… “Erica every time you gave me a hug at the end of each chemo it was like our victory dance… we did it… we made it through another one…” And as she said those words… I realized just how much a simple hug can mean to someone.
It is for this reason and these moments that I will grieve. I will walk through these awful emotions that go with letting go of someone who has been a part of your life. It is for this that I will allow myself room to heal. It is for moments like this that I will continue to be the best nurse I can… even on the worst of days… even on days where I feel burnt out. I will put my every effort into giving them my all even when, especially when I feel like I have nothing left to give.
I will march through every little victory I can with my patients. Because I am their chemo nurse and I want them to know they don’t have to walk this battle alone.