While the nurse was preparing my IV to get me ready for my breast MRI, she also asked questions about my well being – a great way to distract me. She already knew my dislike for needles.
“So how are you doing?” the nurse asked.
“Alright. I don’t like being here,” I replied.
As the nurse was reaching for the alcohol she said, “Every patient I see says the same thing. How are things outside the hospital?”
“Well, nothing is really the same anymore,” I replied as I looked away from my arm.
“What things are contributing to your struggles?” the nurse asked.
“People expect me to be done with cancer and to ‘stay positive’ and I can’t do it.”
“That’s because it’s not them dealing with cancer. They don’t want to deal with it because of their fear. It interferes with their comfort zone,” the nurse said as she tried to locate a good vein in my arm.
“Some of my relationships have changed. The dynamics just don’t feel the same way anymore.”
“Maybe they can’t adjust as well as you can,” the nurse said, spotting what she thought was a good vein. “Why don’t you make new friends? They will never know who you were. They will only know who you are today. And even if they don’t like it, you won’t be as disappointed because you hardly know each other.”
I had to interrupt her to let her know the vein she thought was good, really wasn’t. Then she continued setting up my IV and proceeded speaking.
“Do you want to know what the issue is? We hold on to things too much. We all do it. But everything is temporary. I know you want everything the same way it used to be and I am sorry you haven’t been receiving much support post cancer but…”
I interrupted her again.
“I find that even I am having a hard time accepting who I am today, and, just like my friends are holding on to the old me, I am doing the same without realizing it.”
The nurse continued speaking.
“Think of elementary school or high school, for example. How many of those friends still speak to you? You also don’t speak to them. You built different friendships throughout your life and there was a reason for that. We all evolve in some way or another. Life circumstances happen and not everyone is capable of coping with changes or adjusting. Remember, cancer is not the only contributor to change. You had gone through many changes before cancer happened. You will continue to do so. Cancer just happens to be another transition in your life. One you had no control over. The good news is you still have control over building new relationships and creating a healthier environment for yourself.”
“Yea, I have been through many transitions in my life. I remember some of my relationships had to end mostly because we weren’t comparable anymore. We were on different pages. I guess I feel vulnerable because of my illness. I expect people to understand. I want them to adjust the same way I had to adjust,” I said.
The nurse finally found a good vein then said, “there’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. Just try not to be too hard on yourself. Your coping skills are your own and there is nothing wrong with them. You are not alone. Every patient who sits on that chair you’re sitting on has complained about the same things you’re telling me. I am not sure there’s a way to fix how others react with your cancer situation without forcing yourself to pretend. Personally, I think that makes things more complicated for you. You can only do your best.”
The nurse finished setting up my IV and directed me to the next room where I waited to be called for the MRI.
“Thank you for caring.” I said.
As I walked away from the nurse, she grabbed my shoulder and got closer to my face as if she was telling me a secret. “I want you to remember this, which I had to learn the hard way: expectations are the cause of all headaches.” We both paused for a few seconds. I processed her words and continued on my way.
I so needed to read this today! I have been feeling stressed out the re-adjustment back to the new normal after finishing treatment. You captured it brilliantly! Thank you.
Congrats about finishing treatments. Taking one day at a time was the best approach I took (and continue to take). Allow yourself to go through all the emotions that come with this mess as this is all part of healing. Stay well!
My veins closed their eyes while I read the nurse doing her search part. Liked it when I had a port, like getting gas for the car.
Interesting tip from the nurse. We have to expect something or it feels like we wouldn’t bother to start anything at all(?) But maybe those expectations set us up for disappointment because having an expectation is attempting to control things outside us? Have to think more on that.
Thinking about friends adapting to our changes. The oldest friends I have are obviously the ones I grew up with. We’ve been through changes together and seem to not care or notice surface changes. Ups and downs have been shared between us and especially the important ones where one of us was in crisis while the was doing fine but we stayed together–we didn’t walk away or judge the other’s mess. I’m not sure I even thought about the steadiness of those relationships.
Sorry, thinking out loud…
Scott, I didn’t have a port during chemo and they only used one of my arms. Thank God I didn’t have any accidents, especially with the “red devil”.
You make an interesting point about wanting to have control. I think ultimately this is what we all want — makes us feel safer, in a way. I struggle with not having expectations at all. I feel it is one of those things that makes me human, not to mention we are taught to have expectations from a very young age. I think there is a complexity about this I am still trying to process. I am sure I’ll revisit this topic later.
I am glad you continue to have your relationships.
Thanks for the reply Rebecca. The port saved me a bunch of pokes I could do without. My right arm is now officially used up. Back of my right hand is all scar tissue from a potassium IV that no one checked for a week and the last CT they tried 17 different places on the arm to insert the contrast pump until they gave up. Was flipped off a horse into nettle patch when I was a kid and used up all my Yosemite Words or I would have stopped at 15 pokes:-)
Thinking in terms of control it’s obvious I can’t be treating myself or prescribing meds. The whole cancer thing didn’t at all feel like “treatment” or “care.” I was just worked on. Maybe it relates to going to a branch clinic? Never mind expectations, being unnoticed leaves a person with nothing. Or the nurse may have meant “expect nothing and no one will let you down”? That’s kind of sad.
I recently spent time in hospital to learn how to live in a wheel chair.. I came home with a huge list of expectations like driving and travel and being totally independent.. This was causing great anxiety till one day I realised that I did not have to do these expectations now.. That I could take a few years and do them in my own time and that just taking one day at a time worked much better for me … The anxiety went away and I felt much calmer… The expectations are others and not my own ….
After finishing my treatments, I came up with a set of unrealistic expectations for myself, instead of focusing on the things I knew I was able to do. This created a level of burden I didn’t want to deal with. Eventually I slowed down and allowed my body to heal at its own time. I continue to remind myself to take one day at a time because I truly believe this is the best approach when dealing with such challenging situations. I am glad you were able to adjust. I wish you well.
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Sometimes, we meet the right people at the right time. It’s amazing how that happens.
Those are some of my favorite moments.
What an amazing, caring and wise nurse. Thanks for sharing her wisdom with us. Love this post!
She really was very kind and patient. I have a lot of respect for nurses in general. Glad you enjoyed the read. xx
Wow! That nurse sure understands a lot about life! The conversation was a meaningful one, and I’m glad she was there to listen to you.
Yes, she was great. I am still digesting her words. I am def. going to consider her suggestions.