Every cancer patient needs a nurse in his or her life.

Doctors will save your life.  Doctors give you a diagnosis, prescribe treatment, and monitor your well-being.  Unfortunately, though, oncologists are specialists and they’re focusing on the really important things.  They’re paying attention to your platelet counts and your side effects.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in the last year is that support groups are great and that I need to be around other people who are dealing with this, too.  I never believed in support groups and therapy before.  I thought I was smart enough to get all the answers on my own when I was diagnosed.  Now I know that it’s not about being smart enough.  Indeed, finding a support group is the most important thing a person can do after her diagnosis.  The company of other patients and survivors is essential to the well-being and sanity of a recently diagnosed person.

These events are also where a patient can meet nurses.

Your oncologist is making all the hard decisions. Nurses tell you things.  Doctors talk about you. The nurses in your oncology clinic talk to you.  They ask about the most personal things when your doctor might not be even considering them.

The truth is, stuff happens during your treatment that your doctor won’t tell you about.

During your treatment, for instance, you may find yourself longing to… get your groove back. Even when you’re not stressed out, even when you’re not about to die from fatigue, things may just not work.  Chemotherapy throws everything out of whack, and even when you’re in the mood, parts of your body won’t be.  And your doctor probably won’t be the one to tell you that.

And things to try? Things that could go hilariously wrong, or be a godsend? Definitely not a conversation for a busy specialized physician.

I admit, I’m afraid to ask my doctor questions like that.  I’m afraid that asking him questions about more personal matters might simply be out of his scope, or make him see me in a different light.  In fact, it was during a visit not with him, but with a nurse practitioner, where the subject first came up.

ACS at KaiserToday, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society hosted one of its regular support group meetings, and the topic of the day was love and relationships. Ryan came with me. It was led by a nursing instructor named Pat, and she was fabulous. She spoke freely, and frankly, and often hilariously, and everyone was comfortable asking questions, expressing curiosity, sharing personal stories.

Before my diagnosis, Ryan and I were in a great place.  Now, things are a little more complicated.  Not worse, not better, just different.  It’s taken a little adjustment.  But today made that seem totally okay.

During my treatment, I’ve collected a lot of phone numbers from people who work for my HMO.  I’ve used them, and they’ve helped me.  I’ve learned a lot of things just from talking story with my oncology nurses.  I’ve learned that there are bunch of people who want to answer my questions, or just talk.  I’ve learned that it pays to get familiar with the people I see in the clinic every week.

It took me a while to figure out that I didn’t know everything.  It took even longer to accept help.  Help is there, and it makes all the difference.

5 thoughts on “nurses

  1. Good post, Jen. And great observations. I also believe that a sound medical practice/operation runs on the backs of its nurses, especially from the patient point of view. A good nurse puts a “human” face on what seems like a rather cold and antiseptic environment. At least in my experience.

    And I do hope you find your new “normal” in your life. For everything.

  2. Jen, this is a wonderful, thoughtful post. Your support group and the nurses around you have obviously made a huge difference in your life; being able to talk about the stuff that you wouldn’t ordinarily talk to a doctor about is so important, because it’s the day to day things that you’re living with.

    Thanks for being so open and transparent… I really do appreciate it.

  3. Wow. Just found out what you all have been going through. Wishing you all the best. My prayers are with you all.


  4. So good to hear you’ve been getting lots of support in many different ways, including your nurses! Nurses get to spend so much more time with patients than docs do and that’s why I chose nursing. I admire your courage and your willingness to share your experience with others. Very inspiring!

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