I have walked the fine line between hope and reality for over 8 years as a neuro oncology nurse. This means I have helped coordinate care for patients with brain tumors and other neuro complications of cancer and a world renown comprehensive cancer center where people come from all over the world to seek treatment. I have fallen off that line more times than I can count. I have held the hands of spouses, parents, children, sisters, brothers and friends. At other times I have endured angry outbursts like a parent listening to a tantrum after letting someone know that there are no tricks left in our bag, that we have honestly given their loved one our best and the best wasn’t good enough. Also like a parent, I have asked those that are bringing cases of “miracle treatments” found on Google or on a blog or through a friend of a friend of a friend, if they think we would hold back any chance of a cure for their loved one? I have supported those that wanted to throw their money at these things in desperate attempts anyway. I have been to funerals, to celebrations of life, and to patient homes to say goodbye. Those events always punched me in the gut, seeing pictures and hearing the stories of someone before they were suddenly derailed on their life course, whether it was a seizure or something more subtle leading them to their brain tumor diagnosis- one that often promises a 15 month prognosis. Many fall on either side of this bell curve. There is no rhyme or reason, and it’s not only the good that die young. I have written many sympathy cards. In turn, I have a stack of printed emails and cards from the loved ones of those in our care. There are many that understand that death is a part of life, and others not willing to accept this truth. Usually because there is something that needs reconciling, or there are just too many things left on their bucket list that they haven’t had the time for. I’ll share the first note I ever received because I read it so many times when trying to sort out the unanswerable “whys” that are inevitable in this job and because I truly believe we can learn from everyone if we open our hearts to what they have to say. “Thanks Megan (in response to a note I sent him), What you witness with *** and I, you have and will with others in your professional career and personal life. There are a lot of victories that occur, some of them just aren’t as self evident. I am grateful to have this time with *** on top of all the years we have shared. I just want her to be safe, have dignity, be calm, and not have pain. If all of that is accomplished in the time ahead, then that is a success. I certainly will keep in touch.”
And he did and this was the first service I attended after starting. It was the next week after, that I went back and printed this email and had it pinned up on my bulletin board.
God gives each of us our talents. Mine has been to not only be a nurse, but an advocate, an advisor, a friend, and even some called me family as we walked through the most difficult journey together. At other times, I have actually taken care of family- most notably my father in law as you know, and friends. This can affirm one’s field of service, but it can bring with it a weight that is at times unbearable because as humans, we desire to “fix” things. This is where I really learned to sit with and acknowledge not only my own feelings, but of those around me and that trying to control a situation is fruitless. The only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions.
I have sat in the office of the head neuro oncologist we lovingly call “LR” for hours trying to figure out how to help someone in a difficult case. His grandchildren call him “Grumpy”, because he doesn’t carry a smile on his face. But one quickly finds he is a teddy bear who has shouldered the burden of little progress in brain tumor treatment for almost as long as I have been on this earth. He tells patients he’ll let them know when it’s time to worry, and until then, he will take care of it. Despite his many years, he always stumbled when it was time to tell someone the worst of news. However, he wasn’t afraid to turn to me afterward and say, “how did I do?” when I urged him that this visit would need a little more reality than hope. He holds a wealth of knowledge like no one I have ever met, yet was so easily approachable. We would talk about all sorts of things from sports to politics, to our favorite TV shows. I will miss my “work Dad” tremendously.
One of my other neuro oncologists, “Seema”, helped facilitate care for my father-in law. For that I will be forever grateful. She is an empath, is excellent at walking that indelible line of hope and reality and is breaking down the glass ceilings of working women in medicine. We too have spent many hours in person, via text and email trying to brainstorm on difficult cases. The world is lucky to have people like her.
Then there was of course my fellow nurses and nurse practitioners. The glue to the medical team and often my own sanity. I don’t even know where to start except I feel so lucky and blessed to have had such an incredibly hard working, compassionate, funny, innovative team by my side. We talked about everything, wiped each other’s tears, made each other laugh until our ribs hurt. We grabbed coffee, moments of fresh air and occasionally lunch together to make it through the day. We gave each other advice on everything- from a certain patient situation, family grumblings, pregnancy and motherhood, family members with cancer and even shared recipes and fashion advice. I can truly say they know me better than I often know myself.
This job helped me know myself, better than any other nursing job. It has taught me so much about life, love and everything inbetween. To let go of the small things that don’t matter and cherish the small moments that do. As a mom of “just one”, I get to be a mom to so many more. But my priority is Lincoln now. Life as we know, is too short to not take the opportunities that present themselves. As Condaleesa Rice says, serendipity is not just about being at the right place at the right time, but also who you know. I have been looking for the right opportunity to move on. A chance for my heart to hopefully hold a little less sorrow and to make space for daily small, but precious moments with Lincoln. Change is hard, but I know I am right where I need to be. Without change, we don’t grow. I want to show Lincoln that there is always room to spread your wings and fly.