Libby’s Story: An RN’s Reality

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer.  Stories are always more potent than statistics.  Today’s blogger is an oncology RN at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago — Donna’s hospital.  She treated our girl from 2007-2009.  We remain grateful to her and all the nurses.

By LibbyTraeger, RN

I deal with life and death EVERY DAY. Even on my days off, the fear of what I know often hits me with my own children: my daughter waking up with a headache, and then just vomiting once (tiny voice says “she has a brain tumor!”); or when my son was 2 months old and had some strange bruising on only one leg (same tiny voice says, “he has leukemia, and children under a year have a poor prognosis!”)

There are the bad days — watching parents holding each other up in the hallway while we “code” their child, or the gripping fear in a parent’s eye just after they’ve been told their child has cancer, or the sobs of a mother after she’s been told her son passed away in the operating room unexpectedly.

I also have vivid personal moments that run on repeat through my mind at times:  the “tough guy” pre-teen boy clutching my hand as a doctor digs in his veins to find blood, walking that same mother back to her son’s room so she could say goodbye, a brother of a patient asking me “so what REALLY are his chances?,” or thinking I was strong enough to care for a dying patient when I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter and losing it in our break room after the patient passed away.

There are also days that are not just good, but fantastic.  My stories of resilience and of how to LIVE. The little girl riding a big wheel down the hall, her father and I trying to keep up with her IV pole and oxygen tank, or the ear to ear smile of a boy when I bring him a “prize” for being so brave, or the relief of the parents who come from the clinic “just to visit” because they’ve just been told their child is cancer free and no longer needs treatment.

I could go on and on with stories, both uplifting and depressing, of my years as a heme/onc nurse. But really, it’s the culmination of all those stories that keep me coming back every day. The humanity of what I do, knowing that every day I go to work, I am (hopefully) making a difference in someone’s life.  There’s really nothing better than that.  The other thing that keeps me coming back is my co-workers. I have probably experienced more emotional highs and lows with them than with anyone in my family, even my husband. Although I have never worked anywhere else, I guarantee you, there is no one like the women (and a few men) I have had the privilege to call my colleagues and friends throughout the years. Again, I could go on and on about how incredible these people are, but trust me when I say to you, there is no one better to share both the triumphs and hard days of this job.

Libby and crew.  A full half of these gals treated Donna and our family.  Thank you, oncology nurses!
Libby and crew. A full half of these gals treated Donna and our family. Thank you, oncology nurses!

My job was a lot easier as a 22 year old new grad than it is today, as a mother. I place myself in the situation of these parents probably too often and my heart aches for them and what they have to deal with, watching their child have cancer. But it is their reality, and in choosing this job, I have made it my reality too. As we promote Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I hope it becomes a reality to everyone reading this.

Childhood Cancer, while very prevalent in my life, is unfortunately not relevant enough to receive the funding it needs. Even though I was very nervous to write this essay, it will be worth it if I can bring just the tiniest bit of awareness, so that I can experience many more of the families coming “just to visit.”

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In December 2007 our daughter Donna underwent a stem cell transplant as part of her cancer treatment for papillary meningioma.  That involved one week of high dose chemo followed by over three weeks in isolation.  The isolation is required, as the chemo effectively destroys the immune system, leaving Donna with no white blood cells to defend her body against infection.  During that period, three of our nurses who took care of Donna and us, body and spirit, drafted and choreographed the “White Blood Cell Dance,” as a means of raising our spirits and send Donna some happy and good energy.  The oncology nurses cared for the whole family, not just Donna.  They treat the whole child, not just their cancer. They are amazing.

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Today, Friday, September 5, 2014, marks the annual Eric & Kathy Radiothon for Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago — the hospital where Donna was treated and where Libby works.  If you would like to make a donation to help this amazing hospital continue the important work they do, please consider a donation to honor the oncology RNs.  Tell ’em Donna sent you.  You can donate online HERE, or call the number listed below.

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