May 1, 2014

Memoirs of a Cancer Nurse

While cleaning the kitchen last night, 
I was thinking about a few of my colleagues and patients I had while a nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  It's curious that of all the other places I've worked as a nurse and the hundreds (or more?) of people that I have taken care of throughout my career, my patients and memories at MD Anderson are the most vivid.......every morning when we got our assignments, many of us nurses would print out each of our patients' face sheets for keeping with us throughout the day for jotting down notes to do our charting later on.  The patient face sheet had each patient's name, date of birth, etc next to a picture of them.  At the end of the day after all our charting was complete and our shift over, these sheets would go in a paper shredder (hello, HIPAA!) and that was that. 

That year working as a cancer nurse was one of the hardest--but in some ways one of the best--years of my life.  I had the greatest co-workers and friends to work alongside while there.  I loved my patients and got close to quite a few of them since I worked on a clinical trial floor and saw many "regulars" every few weeks come to get their trial chemotherapies while in the hospital.  I also saw many of them pass by one.  It was heartbreaking and caused a lot of soul-searching on my behalf.  It changed me.

When the time came for Garrett and I to move to Minnesota, I had mixed feelings of relief and sadness.  I was relieved to no longer have to face the emotional stress that came with taking care of stage 4 cancer patients every day.  I was sad to leave those patients at the same time.  I loved them.  
And I was really sad to leave my co-workers and friends behind.  I really had the best bosses and group of nurses to work with that a girl could ask for. 
And MD Anderson was an incredible facility to work for.  I was so proud to be associated with them and all the great things they do towards finding a cure for cancer. 

While cleaning out my locker after my very last shift, I found a few old face sheets folded in half that somehow hadn't made it to the shredder.  I looked through the pages of faces that I knew so well, some who had since lost their hair after a few rounds of chemo, some who had passed away, others who were still fighting cancer valiantly.  I tore out the pictures on those pages, threw the rest in the shredder, and took those pictures home and placed them in my journal.  I spent the next few months writing down their stories and my associations with them in my journal next to their pictures.  

I was thinking about these patients last night and all that I had learned while a nurse on good old P-12, and I suddenly realized that my accounts as a cancer nurse had been burned in the barn fire.  Those pictures, those memories.  And while I can still clearly see every picture in my head of those patients who I took care of, a lot of their names and some of the details are starting to slip my mind.
I do not want to forget all of that.......
 So since I have resolved to re-write my life history (that was lost with those journals) on this blog anyway, I want to make sure I include my experiences at MD Anderson, because as any cancer nurse knows, it is a job that forever changes you, and I don't want to forget about it........

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