Stories of Encouragement
Recently, my little sister died of breast cancer, after ten years, two primaries, and a bunch of recurrences. Before she died, she said "It's pretty cool living like this." I am a social worker by training, but was shocked anyway. She explained that every time something would start to set her off, she was reminded of the next bone scan, CT scan, etc., and quickly her mood returned to being cheerful, as she had understood what mattered in life, and what were "fillers".
At a dinner, someone asked her how long she had been fighting the cancer. She said "I've never fought it. I dance with it!"
Her name was Nancy Petersen-Menefee and her gravestone reads "The Cancer Dancer".
It has been said that when you acknowledge a person in passing, you let them know they are not invisible and you recognize their value as a person. Such small gestures - a hello, a nod or even just eye contact - can do so much for another person, but it is easy for their impact to go unnoticed. There are many opportunities to show people their worth, unfortunately, not everyone takes the time or makes the effort.
In 2009, at the age of 44, I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. The world I knew suddenly imploded and became a very different place. All at once, I went from being a regular healthy person to being a full time patient with a terminal illness. I now spend too many of my days being examined, poked, prodded, scanned and worse. Everything is very sterile, technical and cold. The cancer spread to my lungs, and later, to my brain, so every day is a battle; not easy for anyone to have to experience or witness.
Of course, everyone is nice, yet they keep a certain uncomfortable distance from me. I understand no one wants to experience loss, but being the person who has been diagnosed as terminal can be very isolating. Since my diagnosis, I have lost a few friends and family members - simply because they choose not to deal with what must ineveitably happen. Perhaps it is much easier for them to turn away, rather than extend themselves to me at what may be the end of my life. I understand everyone deals with grief and pain in a different way, but it is very difficult for me, the object of that grief, to accept their decision and distance. After all, I am not dead yet!
Everyone in my oncology office has been very kind and has given me great support. One nurse, however, has stood out in the confusing and frightening haze of my cancer journey. Carla Alling - a wonderful chemo nurse with Arizona Oncology - broke through my fog. I was swollen, bald, and terribly sick, but after each chemotherapy treatment she gave me a warm hug. the first time, I cried on the way home because she saw me as a person and fearlessly connected with me, showing me that I was worth knowing and embracing me despite my disease. What she did was to acknowledge me and that was the most precious gift any caregiver can give. She is just as kind and compassionate with my fellow patients as well. I know it cannot be easy for her to give herself so freely to us, but she does so with seemingly effortless grace. The effect that she has had on the quality of my treatment has been immeasurable. In addition to being a very capable medical professional, she is a true healer. Her ability to connect with patients on a personal level makes her an extraordinary nurse and an extraordinary person. With Carla, I can be a patient and still be a person - and, after all, isn't that what healing is about?
Thanks to her small kindnesses, I no longer feel invisible.