George Miller was one of my patients on my new home on Brigham and Women's 6A, Hem/Onc/BMT. George first rolled up to our floor on a stretcher, slightly zonked on Fentanyl and Versed after getting his central line placed for chemotherapy. I was fortunate enough to be able to care for him during his stem cell transplant admission. Before I start, I should include that I am posting with permission! He even asked me to tag him, :).
I've been really lucky in my short time as a registered nurse to encounter patients who really reconfirm all the reasons I decided to be a nurse five years ago. George was one of them - it's hard to be optimistic and cheerful when you know you have cancer, but George was one of the happiest patients I've ever cared for. I don't have cancer, and I don't think I'm as happy as he is. What the hell. While caring for him, it made me wonder "How could someone who has cancer be so happy and appreciative of the life he's been given?" I don't have any huge, pressing issues in my life. I'm in debt from school loans, but who isn't these days? That's about it.
Cancer knows no boundaries - literally. It's not racist, sexist, elitist, or anything you can think of. People who have cancer can have genetic predispositions, but you can never predict or control it. There's genetics and all the stuff you've been exposed to and your lifestyle, but no can tell you with 100% certainty that so and so percentage of your cancer is from this and another percentage is from that and so forth, even if it boils down to genetic mutations. I've read of stories where patients question "Why me?" And I'm not sure if George ever asked himself that question, but this is how he approached it. He didn't blame himself and, instead, was powering through this his hospital stay. The way he explained it was that he had done nothing wrong to put himself in the position to get cancer. Then we got onto the topic of worry, fear, and anger. He told me had studied and read about Buddhism and how fear and anger were the two worst emotions you could feel. Now, I'm young and I don't know much about things. And the only real loss I've had was losing my grandpa to colon cancer a few years ago. But I couldn't agree more. And here's why.
Fear. Anything can happen. Think about it. People say we're so safe in the States. Is that true? What about all these school shootings? The Marathon Bombing? The art teacher who died when a highway manhole flew through her car windshield? People were scared for my safety when I traveled alone to Iceland, but if you really think about it, I was just as "safe" traveling alone in Iceland as I was walking down a street in downtown Boston. Worrying about something that hasn't happened yet - and might not ever happen - is such a huge waste of time. You're given one life - why should you spend half of it with a cloud over your head? Doesn't it get hard to breathe sometimes? And think of it this way . . if you spend all that time worrying and nothing happens in the end, it was (actually) a huge waste of time. You could've used that time catching up with a friend over lunch, trying out a new hobby, hiking (!!), or just lounging on the sofa laughing out loud to Ellen. There's a quote I read when I was younger which still rings with me to this day: "Worry is like walking around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain."
Anger. I don't know about you, but when I'm angry - and I mean really angry - I cry. It takes a lot for me to cry out of sadness, but not much for me to cry out of anger. Anger is like a black hole that doesn't stop sucking you in. It's a vacuum in the center of your soul that doesn't stop consuming, making it impossible for you to fill the other parts of your soul with meaningful experiences, people, and things that make you happy and your life fun and worthwhile. I hate being angry. I feel like when I'm angry, I can't be anything else. A good example is a girl that I hate. I hate that I hate her. There are so many feelings in this world to experience and it's so unfortunate and shameful for me when I reflect and realize half my day or, worse, half my year, was spent angry at someone. This person never wronged me personally, but wronged someone I care about. For a long time, and still a little bit to this day, I still feel anger when I think about her. But I'm so sick of knowing I get upset over someone so distant from me, who doesn't even care about me, who is so little involved with my life. I'm sick of knowing that she can get me so worked up - and literally over nothing. Because she literally didn't do anything to me! So I've learned to approach it a different way: "She's wronged someone I love. But she hasn't wronged me. What happened between this person and the person I care for is their's, and that should stay in the realm of 'them'. My relationship with her should be based on my interactions with her, and not on her relationship with another person." It's helped.
Anger is so hard to let go of. I know my situation isn't as strong as others' experiences, but I can't even imagine what other people suffer with. It's senseless to feel angry if there's a way you can let go of it.
And so in my ten minutes talking to George, I realized two really important things. And they were to not be fearful and to not be angry if you could help it.
George is fighting cancer. And kicking ass at it. What are you fighting?
Thanks for helping me reflect so much on my experience, George! Your strength inspires others. I will be forever grateful to have had the chance to be your nurse, care for you, and listen to all the wisdom and power you share with the world and the people around you, :). You make the world a happier place.