Saturday, September 28, 2013

I am an oncology nurse.

I am an oncology nurse. I didn’t choose this profession, it chose me. Early on in my nursing school days, I had no clue what area I wanted to work it, but I knew what I didn’t want to work it. Oncology, and Babies. They were soft professions, they were mushy, and emotional, and expected. I wanted to be different, I wanted to stand out, challenge myself, and be a nurse that could stand her ground with any physician any day. And I certainly couldn’t be that in oncology and pediatrics. Or so I thought.
When I got to my senior year, I was assigned my final rotation. I was anxious, and eager to learn, but I can’t say I was excited when I found out I was placed on an adult oncology unit and a hospital over 45 minutes away. I dreaded the long commute and long 12 hour shifts. I dreaded oncology. Surely this wasn’t where I was going to work, so why in the world was I going to waste my time for 9 weeks on a unit I wanted nothing to do with? 
My preceptor’s name was Sam. She was petite and bubbly, but hardworking and a spitfire. The girl knew her stuff. I loved my preceptor, I may not have loved my unit, but I loved my preceptor. And let me tell you, that can make or break your experience.
A couple weeks in, I had the pleasure of taking care of an elderly woman. I honestly cannot even remember her diagnosis, I don’t even think it was cancer related now that I think about it. She was simply on the unit because there was no other place for her to be in that small town hospital, and she was dying. Sometime that afternoon, I remember her daughter coming out to the nurses station where I was sitting (of course with my luck, my preceptor had stepped away at that moment). I could tell by the look on her face that it had happened. I had no clue what to do. After asking another nurse sitting near by she said “well, go in and make sure its for real, listen for breath sounds, feel for a pulse, confirm her passing.” And so I did.
I hoped the family couldn’t see me shaking, because I felt like every piece of me was going to collapse into the floor when I walked into the room. I tried as hard as I could to put on my big girl pants and be strong, supportive, and compassionate all at the same time. When I entered the room, you could have heard a pin drop. Her husband was by her side holding her hand, watching me. All eyes were on me as I took my stethoscope and listened to her lungs, then felt her small frail wrist for a pulse. I nodded to them confirming her passing, saying I was so sorry, and told them I’d give them privacy to spend some time with her saying goodbyes. I went out and paged the doctor to let him know, only to find that the daughter had followed me back out of the room. “Ma’am? My dad would like to lay with her if he could. Could you help us move her over in the bed so he can lay next to her for a few minutes?” My heart sank. While some may find this unnerving, I found it to be the most sweet, loving gesture in the world. I remember thinking, I hope my marriage stands the test of time and our love is that strong, even in the end. It was one of those moments you experience in a movie like The Notebook, but this time, it was real, and right in front of me.
I went in, gently slid her over in the bed, and watched him crawl up next to her as he had done for the past sixty years of his life. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. I spent the rest of my shift marveling over the moment that I was witnessing. Watching this husband grieve, and being as supportive as I could during the hardest moment of their lives. When it was time for shift change, the family gave me hugs and thanked me for what I had done. I found this strange, why in the world would you thank me? Its my job. It’s what I’m supposed to do. Moreover, its what I want to do. I left the hospital that night, and about fifteen minutes into my drive home, I broke down. The emotion of the day finally catching up with me. I wasn’t sad, I was moved. And right then, I knew why God had placed me on that oncology unit. He was showing me exactly where I was supposed to be.
That moment stuck with me, and I soon realized as I applied for new graduate nursing jobs that oncology was actually where I needed to be. I submitted my application to one of the largest hospitals in the state, known across the country for its oncology program. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it at the best place possible. I graduated in December, passed my boards and accepted a job on an adult hematology/oncology unit in January, got married in April, and started work a week after our honeymoon. Four and a half years later, I cannot imagine being anything other than an oncology nurse. It has been the most eye opening, challenging, emotional, and life altering job I could have imagined for myself. People assume the “hardcore” nurses are ED or ICU trauma. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. I have been a part of situations in my four and a half year career that I never would have imagined. There have been times in my nursing career that I have made life altering decisions, been a part of code situations, and held the hands of family members scared out of their minds. Oncology nursing has been the absolute most rewarding, challenging thing I could have ever hoped for.

This week I made a decision that will be a life changing one. Not only for myself, but for a patient who desperately needs a stem cell transplant to save his or her life. This week I joined Be The Match, which is the National Marrow Donor Program. I literally signed up online, they mailed me the kit which I completed and mailed back. It took about five seconds of my time and a quick swab of the inside of my mouth. Just like that, I am part of a program that helps save thousands of lives every year. With September being Blood Cancer Awareness month, I can’t think of a better way to honor those who battle leukemia, both patients and friends. Go to for more information.


 “I am a Nurse. I didn’t become a nurse because I couldn’t cut it in med school, or failed organic chemistry, but rather because I chose this. I work to maintain my patient’s dignity through intimate moments, difficult long term decisions, and heartbreaking situations. I share in the joy of newly born babies and miraculously cured diseases. I share in the heart break of a child taken too soon, a disease too powerful, a life changed forever. My patient is often an entire family. I assess and advocate. Sometimes I wipe bottoms, often I give meds, but that isn’t the extent of what I do. There are people above me, and people below. I work closely with both, without them, I could not do what I do well. I chose this profession and love almost every minute of it. I know I am not alone and I appreciate all of the nurses who work alongside me. Many of them have shaped me into the nurse I am. Someday I will shape others into the nurse they will be. This wasn’t my plan B, it was my plan A, and I would gladly choose it again.”


  1. I found your post very touching. I am a retired nurse and can relate to the nurse/patient relationship. I agree, nursing is more than meds and iv' can be a deep emotional connection with patients and their families and a most rewarding career if one opens up their heart.

  2. this post made me get teary eyed, especially since we just lost a relative to cancer in august. Trust me, those families do appreciate every thing you do for them!


Blogger Template designed By The Sunday Studio.