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Michele Longabaugh is a wife, a mother of three children, a registered nurse and a small business owner in the Midwest. In February 2010, she was diagnosed with stage IV anal cancer. She hopes to shatter the stigma and fight the loneliness that accompanies this devastating type of cancer. Follow her on Twitter at @CrazyAssCancer

Nurses Touching Souls

A survivor recalls the impact oncology nurses can have on their patients.and the "extraordinary power" of love.
PUBLISHED: 8:28 AM, WED APRIL 13, 2016
This is not a religious piece, but more a comparison to display the impact that an oncology nurse can have upon patients. First, a little history is in order. I am going to familiarize you with the life and story of St. Therese of the Little Flower.
According to The Society of the Little Flower, “The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, Story of a Soul.” She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood.” She lived each day with an unshakable confidence in love. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds, but great love.”

Therese lived and taught a spirituality of attending to everyone and everything well and with love. She believed that just as a child becomes enamored with what is before her, we should also have a childlike focus and totally attentive love. Therese’s spirituality is embodied in doing the ordinary, “with extraordinary love.”

I came to know Therese’s story through a friend when she presented me with a holy medal embossed with her likeness. I wear this medal almost every day, and when I place it around my neck, it draws my focus and thoughts to several close friends who are battling cancer. Why am I writing about this daily ritual in my life? It’s because the life story of St. Therese was brought to the forefront of mind a few weeks ago, I can’t shake it loose, so I am compelled to share it.

I was attending the Cancer Patient Family Council Meeting, and this meeting was a bit unusual because we were meeting at an alternate site. The secretary had emailed to tell the council members the address of the substitute meeting area, and I immediately recognized it. It was going to be in the patient resource area of the Cancer Center Radiation building. This was a place that was very familiar to me.

I arrived for the meeting a few minutes early and parked my car in an open spot for visitors, careful to avoid any patient-designated parking. I had been a patient once, and those close, handy parking spots were a Godsend many days. It was strange to walk into those all too familiar doors. I knew I was going to be going to the right. To the left was the waiting room dedicated for patients and their families that are receiving radiation therapy or seeing the radiation oncologists.

As I came through the automatic doors just before turning to the right, I caught a familiar silhouette in the waiting room. It was my radiation oncologist’s nurse, Teresa. She was seated next to a patient and family, her hand placed gently on the patient’s arm. They were all talking in hushed tones, and I didn’t linger so I wouldn’t overhear words not meant for my ears, but the scene created a flashback of sorts: I was the patient, her hand was on my arm, my sister and my husband were listening in as she relayed to me her concern for my well-being and gently told me that it was time to be in the hospital. I was resistant to the idea, but she was prepared for that with kind understanding but firm intentions. I was going to be admitted, period. End of discussion.

This led me to recall the multitude of kind and compassionate acts she performed on my behalf throughout my treatment. From working with my family, to relaying her concerns to doctors, to holding my hand through the painful weekly examinations of my “nether area,” she never wavered in her care and love—yes love—for my family.

I turned away from the scene, made my way down the hall to the conference room, and attended my meeting but could not get the scene out of mind. I tried to stop in to say hello as I left, but she was busy with patients. That evening, as I removed my medal and my thoughts focused once more on my friends battling cancer, I smiled to myself thinking of St. Therese of the Little Flower and realizing I was blessed to have been cared for by a nurse that emulated her beautiful soul through my terrible, ugly disease. She treated me with dignity and respect, compassion and love.

An oncology nurse simply caring for her patients, “doing the ordinary with extraordinary love” sounds so familiar. St. Teresa? I know her!

Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
More from Michele Longabaugh, RN
Palliative care is for the living.
PUBLISHED: Tue February 26 2019
My training as a registered nurse helped me as I developed long-distance relationships with several women who have anal cancer--I call them my “virtual sorority sisters.”
PUBLISHED: Thu October 25 2018
A look at how writing is a means of self expression and stress relief for a nurse who is also cancer survivor.
PUBLISHED: Wed May 30 2018
Cancer touches the caregiver as much as the patient, and that position comes with it's own, unique emotional tolls.
PUBLISHED: Thu March 23 2017
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