Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic papillary thyroid carcinoma. THIRTY YEARS! I was 14. I remember meeting with the “medical team” and my horrified parents the day after the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis and the gentle surgeon said, “Cancer is a bad penny, Jenny, but of all the bad pennies that you could have turned up, thyroid cancer isn’t the worst.” He was right. My cancer and subsequent treatment consumed a lot of my time and emotion for first few years following my diagnosis, but it definitely wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. I’ve learned a lot from being a two -time cancer survivor (the booger came back!), and most of that was for the best.
Cancer was probably what drove me to choose nursing as a career. But it took awhile for me to figure that out. I went to the University of Richmond and earned an English degree in 1993. Working in the pit of an advertising agency made me realize I had better give some serious thought to how I wanted to spend my days since Prince Charming hadn’t galloped by just yet. Nursing is usually a legacy career – every nurse has a mom, aunt, grandmother who was a nurse – but I just felt like I had to spend my days to something that mattered. As a cancer patient, I meet some of the best and some of the WORST of the ladies in white and I was going to be one of the best. Fairleigh Dickinson University had an accelerated nursing program that I graduated from in 1997 and I took my fresh RN license to Atlanta, Georgia to start a career.
I met my husband, Kevin, shortly after moving to Georgia and we were married in September 2000. I was sure that I’d get pregnant in no time flat and get the ultimate promotion to be a SAHM. Along came Ryan and then along came Sean. Loves of my life and worth every minute of all of it.
SAHM-dom was sadly short lived. You know those vows, “for better or for worse?” “for richer or for poor?” They mean it. Finances dictated I go back to the nursing gig FULL TIME. More than ever, if I was going to have to leave Ryan and Sean Monday through Friday and sacrifice mystery reader visits for staff meetings, my work had to feed my soul.
“How do you do it?” “Why do you do it?” “Isn’t that just so sad?”
These are things hospice nurses hear very often. The thought of working with the terminally ill and caring for patients and families at end of life is almost repulsive to many people. For me, it is a privilege. And believe me, I’m no saint!
Maybe it is the Irish in me, but I love the stories. I marvel at the fact that I enter people’s homes or hospital rooms and become so quickly trusted with some of their deepest fears, greatest hopes, regrets and successes. Each day I interact with patients and families, I learn more than I teach and I celebrate more than I grieve.
It is an interesting spot to nurse the dying each day and then come home and nurture my children. While seemingly opposite experiences, I think (hope!) I am better nurse and listener because of the fortification my thriving sons give me and I strive to be a better and more grounded mother because of the perspective my patients share with me.
That’s how it supposed to work anyway….
This space, HOPEspot, is created for just that purpose. Life dishes out a lot. Mrs. Garrett wasn’t kidding when she said, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life” (pretend you’re not singing). My history is unique to me but my experience really isn’t. Life, if you’re paying attention, can give you whiplash. My involvement with hospice just underscores that fact with tremendous clarity.
The Bible tells us that "three things remain: faith, hope and love and the the greatest of these is love" and who am I to second guess the Bible? But hope, HOPE is huge and powerful and has incredible power. In some of the crappiest of what life dishes out, that I've lived and seen, HOPE has been ever present.
So what do I think? Life is a terminal event. None of us are getting out of here alive. For me, I’ve carried three critical tools in my belt that work for whatever has been thrown at me, personally and professionally: Good information, great sense of humor, and unflinching commitment to hope.
From all that I’ve learned, seen and lived, I’d like this space to provide those things:
Good and credible information about hospice and palliative care for professionals and interested patients and their loved ones.
Humor – about how ridiculous life can be and these challenges that we, as mere mortals are supposed to navigate.
Hope- inspiration in all forms and belief that each of us can just “keep swimming” is imperative and can be found in some of the most unexpected places.
I can’t do this alone. Nothing I’ve ever done well has been done alone. I want to share this information, these thoughts, our stories together….