The best way to find yourself  is to lose yourself in the service of others. Mahatma Gandhi

While I have amazing doctors and researchers at MGH and Dana Farber who have weighed in on my case and helped carve out a plan I trust will see me back to pristine health, it’s the nurses I need to talk about! To a person, each nurse that has taken care of me is a stellar human being: intelligent, capable, and kind. During out-patient visits I am scooped back to a room on Yawkey 9, where one nurse draws my blood and changes my PICC line cover. Another is my go-to person for questions or concerns who can also take care of annoying paperwork I need addressed. When I am living at MGH each nurse has a 7-7 shift, where I am their main focus with one or two other guests on the floor. Let’s face it: nurses run the show. They are the living heartbeat of the hospital, they bring the consistent love and healing while they deliver the care plan, put all the pieces together, problem solve, all the while keeping calm and carrying on.

I am, by nature, a curious and social person and as a rule, people like talking about themselves. So, from newly minted nurses to those with forty years walking the halls, over time, I’ve ask each nurse these questions: How long have you been at this? What drew you to oncology? What else are you into besides nursing?

I commit to remembering everyone’s name, and I file bits of their stories in my mind so I can pick up the thread of a conversation: ask how the race went, or how their mother-in-law is doing, or what their son dressed up as for Halloween. Everyone likes to be known and feel heard. I also try to learn the names of the people who deliver my food, the person who restocks my linen, the helper who takes me on a gurney for some kind of procedure. Every situation is an opportunity to connect, to brighten someone’s day. And even if I feel poorly, this helps me feel better. Part of the challenge of being at the hospital for brief or elongated stays is feeling isolated and away from my people, so these become my people.

To a point! I also know they have a job to do. These smart capable people juggle diverse needs of patients in various stages of health. Each nurse can flush a PICC line, coordinate medications, troubleshoot side-effects, dress a wound, access a port, strip and re-make your bed while you’re in the shower, remember you like a manual blood pressure and when asked, toast your gluten-free bread. They can give a pep talk, say kind words about the picture of your gorgeous family on the wall, take your vital signs, all while reminding you to keep walking, drink your water, and eat your lunch! It’s a potent combination of specialty training, understanding of oncology treatments, and hospitality, especially on the in-patient floor. I admire how the nurses move seamlessly through these roles and how they work long hours with equanimity and patience. Helpfully, there is palpable camaraderie among the staff, often a job requires two nurses, especially when meting out chemo, mostly to make sure the right patient is getting the right drug in the right dose at the right time. Many have been there for decades and love this particular floor.

Personal experience with nurses, or with a family member who went through cancer treatment is often what brought a person to this work. A lot of them are moms, juggling shifts with at-home duties; not surprisingly, many are interested in natural, integrative, and preventive approaches in health care. What most impresses beyond the skillset, the kindness and caring is the self-assuredness, especially when they have to do complicated, multi-step procedures or things that hurt! Being swift and direct in action while being good communicators, and optimistic round out qualities I admire most in the nurses I have met at MGH.

I ask if they see people who have completed treatment and are well; mostly they don’t. It’s not because people don’t get better, but on-floor nurses are not working in the outpatient clinic where the success stories (and where I should land!) are seen for years afterward. I think it would be helpful for nurses to hear about patient outcomes, but this reminds me that they and their charges benefit by their dedication to being in the moment, focused on the tasks at hand, addressing the needs of the person before them at that moment in time. I have been the recipient of that keen attention and value the concentrated, loving, and caring expertise.

One night I am having a hard time, just lonely in that cavernous place, missing Paul and feeling bad for myself. My nurse on duty, Deb, drops everything she was supposed to be doing to sit with me and just talk, which led to laughter and some tears, too, after which of course, I felt much better and at peace and drifted off. That said, please know I’m feeling most excellent, continuing on my immunotherapy cycle number one which ends in a week. I will enjoy two weeks off before another four week cycle. Then mostly likely, I will pack my bag to check into MGH, get back to some of these wonderful nurses, for a process I will describe in an upcoming post called “conditioning,” before what sounds to me like an opportunity for a miracle: a stem cell transplant for a cure, most likely beginning in the new year.

I hope you do not need medical care any time soon, but eventually most of us will. If you find yourself in such a place, may you also come across people in the nursing profession whose skill, generous hearts and souls, and competent hands bring you help, support and comfort in your time of need.  And to all my cousins and friends, patients and colleagues who are also nurses, THANK YOU for your work in this essential field, in this world.

Thank you everyone, for all your love, prayers, support, and good wishes. I am sure that these generous and ongoing gifts from each of you are doing as much as any of the medications I take. Plus, we all KNOW, the side effect profile of this kind of healing is NIL!

Love and light (especially on these grey November days,) from Middle Street,


#nursesrock #naturopathic #MGH #leukemia #thriver