Working in oncology (and anticipating a lifelong career in this direction) sometimes elicits raised eyebrows. So much sadness, right? How do you deal?

I deal by recognizing what a gift this work can be…

I’ve been on my unit long enough that many of our long-term patients (and their families) are starting to become familiar. I’m starting to give and receive hugs to and from patients and wives and husbands and parents when I see them in the hallway. Even though I know their return to our floor is often a bad sign.

Multiple family members have told me that if they have to be in the hospital, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. And no where else they would rather keep vigil when their loved ones pass. What an honor.

Cancer patients are some of the most resilient, kind, forgiving people I have ever met. Even when they’re angry or scared or frustrated or in excruciating pain, they are often still gracious and appreciative for the littlest things.

I’ve learned that it’s okay to love my patients. And to grieve when they are gone. That being a caregiver involves caring.

I’ve learned that grieving with a community helps us all. I’ve sung the praises of my co-workers multiple times over the past several months. But when you do the work that we do, having a team you love helps with the sorrow and anguish. Looking into the eyes of a fellow nurse and knowing he/she is as shocked/upset/sad as you are, that sometimes it just plain sucks to watch people die, that you can share the heaviness, you know you can keep doing this work.

I consider my job a privilege that I will never take for granted. Even more so having been on the other side. Having known deeply and personally that nurses mean more to these patients and families than they (we) will ever be able to express. When my father passed away and his nurse looked at us and burst into tears when she pronounced that he was gone, when she hugged us tight and let us sob (and sobbed along with us), I was grateful for that gift.

Do I get my heart broken? Do I take it home with me? Sometimes.

But I consider that a gift too. We are called to be neighbors and family, not strangers. We are supposed to mean something to each other.

Thank you for the honor of being part of your journey. And for being part of mine.

Go answer your calling. Go and fill somebody’s cup. When you see an angel falling, won’t you stop and help them up. Because we are each other’s angels. And we meet when it is time. We keep each other going, and we show each other signs. ~David LaMotte

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