The Only Word That Matters
by Anne Lawton
I’ve been an oncology nurse for 17 years. People ask me all the time, “How can you stand your job?” Or they comment, “It must be hard,” and “I couldn’t do it.” I love my job, and I love my patients. What people don’t realize is that it’s an honor to be a nurse, especially an oncology nurse. I live with hope every day.
The most important word on the first visit to our office is hope. Sometimes it’s the only word heard. It’s absolutely the only word you want to hear. People hope their doctor is good. They hope they make it through surgery, and they hope their cancer is treatable. They hope they can tolerate the chemotherapy. They hope I can find a vein easily for the IV, and that I know what I’m doing. They hope they can pay for treatment, and that they don’t lose their job. Mostly, they just hope for survival.
As time progresses, people dare to hope for new things.
I’m no different. When every new patient comes in, I hope for the same things.
As time progresses, people dare to hope for new things. They hope for a cure. They hope for a nice, full head of hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They hope the neuropathy and the other side effects go away. It’s no longer just survival they hope for; they want their life back. They have a lot to do, and they hopethe cancer never comes back.
I hope they go on to live a full, healthy life, even though it will be a different life. I hope that remission lasts forever.
For some, cancer becomes a chronic disease. They hope for a long remission and for more time. They hope for a life worth living, with few cancerrelated side effects. They hope to live long enough for graduations, grandchildren, weddings, or that trip of a lifetime. They hope to complete their “bucket list.” I hope for the same things for them. I hope they live each day with joy and embrace the days they feel well.
But mostly, I don’t want them to lose hope. Without it, there is nothing. Hope is the only word that matters.
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Anne Lawton has been an oncology nurse since 1993. She currently works for Women’s Cancer Care Associates in Albany, NY. This essay was inspired by the Caring Together support group.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2011.