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To My Oncology Nurses, the True Heroes of Cancer

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To the Staff of the Chemotherapy Infusion Center in Long Island, New York:

I am writing this letter to you today as I reflect back upon the six months of intensive chemotherapy I received under your watchful eyes and dutiful care. Now that several months have passed since my last treatment with you, I wanted to share my thoughts about the experience I had in your charge.

I should commence by stating that I never envisioned, in my worst nightmares, that I would have any reason to write such a letter at any point in my life, much less at the (relatively) young age of 46. My diagnosis with leukemia six years earlier came as a complete shock to me, as I imagine it does for many of your patients. At the time of my diagnosis, my life was becoming – appropriately – less about me and almost entirely about my young sons and family. But cancer has a way of forcing one to change perspectives, and although I may have always possessed some narcissistic tendencies (at least that is what some will argue) I never desired to be at the focus of my life at this stage, much less for this reason.

Consequently, when I first came to you for treatment, I was wholly unprepared and utterly terrified. Despite the “education session” that I was required to endure – where I learned about seemingly every possible side effect that I could experience from the chemo, ranging from the odd (metallic taste; unusual bleeding – isn’t all bleeding unusual?) to the severe (leukemia, which of course I already possess), I was nonetheless completely uncertain and fearful of what might transpire.

Then I arrived for my first day of treatment. Although admittedly there was the brief period that day when I thought I was either dying or just going to have a highly embarrassing involuntary rejection of my breakfast – what a way to make a first impression – I was never so comforted nor felt so secure in my life. Notwithstanding that I was facing the most terrifying event that most anyone has to face, your professionalism, competence, experience, compassion and warmth were beyond anything that I could ever have anticipated.

There probably are few things in modern life as fear-inducing as being forced to undergo months of infusions of highly toxic chemicals, pumped directly into one’s bloodstream for extra potency. And yet, I felt so amazingly secure in your daily care that I quickly forgot about my fears and looked forward to seeing each and every one of you each time (even if I could have probably done without the chemo-induced nausea).

In remembering all of this, particularly with the benefit of hindsight, I would offer that you consider only changing one thing in your approach with future patients: Nothing. I am not one for hyperbole and can be rather curmudgeonly. Nor do I suffer fools lightly. Thus, for me to have a sum total of zero suggestions to you to improve what you do so well is, as you know from dealing with me, truly astounding.

In fact, I endured – and still do to this today – a rather perplexing sense of wishing to be back at the Center with you. I know from my discussions with other cancer survivors that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. The care, the support, the kindness and, most important, the love in which you enveloped me during this most difficult of periods is hard to walk away from, notwithstanding that most fortunately the underlying need for it has dissipated. And while this may be a fairly common experience for those who have rang that bell signifying the successful completion of chemotherapy, I am confident that my feelings of longing to return were more pronounced than most, for the simple but vital reason that the care with which I was handled made me more secure than anyone with a diagnosis such as mine has a right to hope for, much less expect.

My only regret is that I was not able to convey these deepest of heartfelt emotions and this most profound sense of gratitude to you in person and at the time. I do not know how you face the challenges of each patient with all of the good humor, positivity and care that you bring with you each and every day, but I will forever be in awe of you for doing so.

I wish that I had more words at my command that could better express my true feelings for all that I stated above and more. But lacking such, please allow me to conclude by saying that which I can: Thank you.

Getty photo by KaLi_ua

Originally published: June 27, 2019
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