How many of us have the same center of our universe at all times? How many of us wake up in the morning and our minds go to the exact same thing/person/place every time? I remember waking up and my first thought could be “Coffee” or “UGH, another day at work” or “I should not have had that lasagna at eleven o’clock last night”.
Now I wake up and think, “Did she get some sleep last night?” or “How are her potassium levels?” or “I hope the pain medication actually worked.” I also wonder, “How is Mom really doing?” and “Is Daddy lonely at home?” Then I make sure my cellphone is turned on and fully charged. You know, just in case.
You see, my little sister was told that her cancer is back. And it has spread.
As a registered nurse, I use my objective thinking skills, research and work-related learning to stash my own emotions way down there where I can deal with them, one PET scan result or one electrolyte level at a time.
Have I allowed myself that total breakdown moment yet?
Have I allowed myself to feel completely scared and freaked out and worried and anxious?
Then I get into my books or talk with my co-workers about options for chemotherapy and radiation and pellets and beads and palliative pain management, and it renews my hope in her treatment.
Emotions range from anger at the surgeon who said, “Oh, we got it all!” to fear to hopelessness to determination. My fervor at specializing in oncology has been stoked into this burning desire to not only help my own family, but to help other people fighting this. These tiny, mutated cells destroy so many lives – I feel glee at the thought of radiation making them violently explode or chemotherapy making these cells stagger around drunkenly in their tiny bloodstream streets until they collapse and are crushed underneath the razor-sharp wheels of the local streetcar.
I am frequently asked how I can go into oncology when my heart is hurting so much knowing my baby sister is so ill. I look these folks straight in the face and tell them, “You just answered your own question.”
My sister is a strong woman. Cancer isn’t the first thing she’s fought off. I can’t foresee how this new treatment will work with her, but I know that my family will come back together and be stronger than ever. I think right now we’re all kind of dealing with our own internal emotions which has led to a strange dynamic – yet we are also a family who knows togetherness and strength. I am focusing on communication among the four of us, and being a source of information as well. I have not shed my tears yet, but have chosen to funnel my insecurities into researching and answering what I can.
I may be the nurse in my family, but I am still my sister’s sister and my parents’ daughter.