To the Nurses Who Made Me Feel Like a Hero Instead of a Burden
My brother once gave me this advice, which some might call daydreaming, to help manage anxiety-ridden moments, where regaining control seems like an impossible task.
“Literally just think of a happy thought and run with it,” he said. “For example, I start thinking about playing in a huge sports tournament like the U.S. Open. What court would I be on? Who am I playing? Is it hot? Cold? Rainy? Who would be cheering me on? Which family members and friends would show up?”
This has been helpful to me in procedure rooms waiting for a spinal tap to begin, or a port to be placed. When I have a flare at 2:00 a.m. and am consumed by physical pain, it’s often the only thing that provides enough of a distraction where I can fall back asleep. Ironically, in doing this, I’ve always sequentially run through the same scenario:
I walk on stage and present my latest groundbreaking findings, which reveal the cure to cancer. Several weeks later, I would visit the Hematology/Oncology Infusion Center, only to be met by huge hugs, and handshakes, maybe even a picture or an autograph. The patients who no longer were there had been cured and the ones that remained were soon to be cured themselves. In that infusion center everyone knew me as the cancer-curing superhero.
For as long as I can remember, any daydream I had revolved around curing disease. If I was ever to be “known” in Starr Pavilion 330 Hematology/Oncology Infusion Center, it was going to be for something really good. And so, in May 2017, I found myself, for the third time, in this very location. As the door swung open, I was greeted with the biggest hug and smile from the head Nurse Practitioner, who would whisper in my ear, “Welcome home.” I was not the hero I had dreamed about, but instead I was a patient and you bet I was known there. Instead of that hero, I was the one known for having massive reactions, having every side effect and requiring intense monitoring following frequent pages to my doctor. In my mind, I imagined that when my name came up on the schedule, I was “that one” mentioned with a head shake and sigh. The one who was a burden. Days when I was there, people regretted not taking time off.
When you are 23 and you have seen 47+ specialists, only one of which had remained committed to your care, feelings of being a burden – to doctors, nurses and anyone who just wants to help – are some of the hardest to swallow. Though I have been told to “stop apologizing” and I’m “not a burden,” it was always just word babble. In my heart I thought I knew the truth. But I did not. In the course of my eight-hour treatment a part of me changed. After dropping a thank you email to the Nurse Practitioner (the one who had welcomed me with that hug earlier), I got this message back:
“You are the true hero. I am one of your vessels toward health and peace of mind, for which it is an honor.”
I walked in the next morning to find out my nurse had adjusted her days off to make sure she would be there when I was coming in for treatment, because she understood that anything that was known and familiar made me more comfortable.
These words and actions that were taken by two incredible people on “my team” changed my life. During a time I wanted to stop bothering everyone and strongly considered discontinuing treatment, these two individuals restored hope in me and a beyond words appreciation and gratitude for the special people you meet during the toughest of times. Though I’m not the hero I daydream about being, I had been viewed as one nonetheless. And until I can make that daydream of mine a reality, I will forever be grateful for my heroes.
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Thinkstock photo via michaeljung.