With a Lot of Help from My Friends…and Nurses

June 5, 2008

O Best Beloveds, thank you so much for your messages of love and support after my last two emails. Many of you have generously shared your own stories of depression and anxiety, and those have helped me enormously. I am sorry that anybody has ever gone through any of that, but at least some good can come out of bad experiences. Meanwhile, here’s to our mutual better living through chemistry.

I also so so so appreciate all the notes of concern, from pure poetry to a simple “Man, this su-hu-hu-UCKS.” All of it translates to “We are here for you” and please believe me; while I can’t do this without the wonders of Dr. W., I sure as hell would not have gotten this far without you. We do not exist except in relation to others; Cancer Chick is nothing without you. Nothing.

While on the subject of support, as I prep for chemo commencement tomorrow, I wanted to muse a bit on another important aspect of Team Cancer; the chemo nurses. One of the many nice things about going to a specialized clinic is that you see the same people all the time; I’ve spoken to other patients and we all agree, it’s huge to have that kind of stability. This particularly includes the nurses who deliver the chemo. One sees one’s doctor regularly, but it’s only for a few minutes, and under certain circumstances; during chemo, the relationship is closer between the patient and the nurse who is setting up your IV (needling your arm or sticking your port, as the case may be), getting relief-delivering meds, offering suggestions for how to deal with side effects, checking to make sure you are comfortable during the process and so forth. It’s fairly intimate, or can be. And I don’t know if my clinic just has great hiring policies or if oncology nurses as a species are ontologically awesome, but there isn’t a soul there who isn’t notably warm and nuturing. During the previous years of IV chemo (Dec ’05 to Nov ’06 this last time, but the other two times I did it as well) I really came to rely on them–I just felt more secure for having them there. They had seen it all, and were able to make suggestions accordingly, and partly because of that, and partly because of their own personalities, were very soothing. And then some; there was one session where I was the only patient in the room, and I swear, the nurses on duty practically treated me like I was a spa patient. They were even giving my legs and feet a massage!

Long time readers will recall Chemo Nurse Lisa playing a large role during the last IV chemo phase. She left about a year ago to take an ER job and we were all devastated. Her sidekick Chemo Nurse Kathy and I were also really close; she would always give me warm hugs and kisses when I came in, and you should have seen the happy dance she, Chemo Nurse Lisa, Steve and I did when I finished chemo the last time. You really feel like they are taking your case personally. Kathy left for another job quite suddenly while we were in Paris and I never got a chance to say goodbye to her. I busted out crying when I found out. It really feels like abandonment even though intellectually you know better. (No one ever leaves lightly; in her case, she had been driving an hour plus one way to get to work and she got a job closer to home.) And a third chemo nurse who I also liked a lot (but didn’t know as well as she didn’t work as often) moved out of state.

This leaves me starting chemo tomorrow with a brand new nurse I’ve only met once. She seems very very sweet–they wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t tops–but again, it’s part of feeling secure, having your team member who knows you, and that Benedryl doesn’t make you sleepy but makes you wired, and that you need super duper anti-nausea meds, and two spritzes of numbing spray on your port before sticking the needle in. It’s bad enough going into the unknown–new chemo–with someone similarly unknown. It’s okay–again, I’m sure I will love her after just a week or two–but it does add to the unease.

So I was happy to hear that Dr. W’s regular Nurse Practitioner, who does know me and my quirks quite well, would be helping in the room tomorrow, as that’s one familiar loving face. And she came with great news: Chemo Nurse Lisa is returning to full time in August. I can’t tell you what a relief that is. What great timing!

But the point is–you and the chemo nurses. Like a security blanket made out of frosting, that’s how good you are.

Will report from the other side of Navelbene,