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.
By Wendy Burr
In what job can you serve people daily in as profound a way as nurses do? I have been the recipient of unforgettable acts of kindness put forth by nurses, and now my career aspirations are primarily fueled by the desire to pay it forward to families facing hardships of their own.
In 2011, my three-year-old son (read Matthew’s Story HERE) was in the hospital for three horrible days of testing prior to his cancer diagnosis. On the third day, the doctors finally decided to take a biopsy of his bone marrow, which required a procedure to be done under general anesthesia. My little Matthew was terrified.
Feeling apprehensive ourselves, my husband and I took him into a huge, sterile room and laid his head on a donut-shaped pillow. As the anesthesia began, Matthew flipped out and our panic set in. The anesthesiologist quickly put Matthew under to regain control of the situation, and as Matthew’s small body went limp, we were ushered out of the room.
Waiting in a quiet room, my husband and I held onto each other sobbing in fear. Our son was about to be diagnosed with cancer, and we both knew it. Our only preconceived notion was that cancer kills. These were the darkest moments of our lives.
During those horrible moments and in the days to come, the nurses were there, comforting us. They cried with us. They taught us how to advocate for our son. When we no longer felt qualified to care for him, they instructed us with patience and understanding. Hours upon hours were spent teaching us just what we needed to do so that we would feel comfortable enough to take our son home again. Their charity, empathy, and caring nature are hard to describe and are unrivaled by any other memory I have.
At the end of the week, while we were preparing to go home, I asked our nurse how he does his job without giving up too much of himself. His answer is etched in my mind forever. He told me he gets more out of his job than he gives.
This man, who cries with parents who are grieving because their worst nightmare came true; who pretends that mountain dew is urine in a specimen cup, just to make sick kids laugh; who smells the “stinky feet” of every angry child he cares for, and then falls on the floor, just for a tiny smile: this is who I want to emulate.
If he can do such soul-rending work and still have something left for his loved ones, then maybe I can too.
As a nurse, I will have the ability to help people every single day, and sometimes that help will come during the darkest moments of their lives. After what I’ve seen, how could I possibly choose to do anything different with the rest of my life? I want to be a nurse to pay it forward. After all, I suspect someone did the same thing for me once.
Wendy Burr is a nurse and mother and author who lives in Utah.