"The Big C"

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    As a nurse I am exposed daily to "The Big C" which is what it was called by my parents when I was growing up. As a family member and a friend I struggle with the diagnoses because as much as I want to see the happy ending for them, It doesn't seem to happen very often. My experience with Cancer in my home life has not had any happy endings, and I realize that my family and friends have never had the happy ending and my training doesn't help me cope any better than the lay person.

    When I was growing up, my parents referred to cancer as 'The Big C" I hadn't a clue what they were referring to, all I knew it was a horrible disease that people had and it was whispered about not discussed in the open.

    What on earth was 'The Big C' all I knew was it was a secret, a bad secret because people would point to who had it, and discuss it behind closed doors! It terrified me because it was like a monster or something horrific that could catch you! Of course as I grew up I was educated about cancer and when I became really grown up I worked in a hospital so would come face to face with 'The Big C' on a daily basis.

    Everybody knows somebody who has cancer, it is no longer a secret to be discussed behind closed doors, it is out in the open, we can search all about it on the internet, watch documentaries on the TV and find numerous help groups in doctors offices, hospitals and in the yellow pages.

    Does all this information make the diagnoses any easier to take? Yes and No, sometimes there is almost too much information and your system can go into overload. As a nurse I can never get enough information, education or new research about new discoveries, cures and treatments to help support and advise my patients. As a family member or friend I do not find that all my knowledge, education or experience helps me!

    In my mind when somebody I know is diagnosed with 'The Big C" I go into a trance following the pathway to the end, I see them in therapy, I see them sick with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, I know the stages of grief they will go through and I don't see a happy ending. I feel myself withdrawing from certain conversations because I cannot promise them the happy ending they believe will happen, I will never be negative to them in the conversation but in my mind I see what is happening and I know with certainty 90% of the time what the end result will be.

    Everybody wants reassurances from me the nurse, I am trained never to promise anything only to explain pathways and potential outcomes, never to be negative but never to say everything is going to be ok, or making false positives.

    In recent years I have lost my mother and a couple of friends in their 50's from cancer, I witnessed their struggle and supported them with a breaking heart from diagnoses to the end! The Big C has struck my life in a huge way! No happy endings for them or me.

    This month I have become a coward; my friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer again a woman in her early 50's, a pretty substantial size tumor. Advise from her surgeon chemo, radiation therapy, bilateral mastectomy, the works! I use every excuse to mankind of why I can't call her, the time difference from west to east coast. I go to work early and come home late. I am up early and in bed early! I know my behavior is not right, but I honestly do not know what to say to her! I don't want to see her struggle; I don't want to feel the pain of a broken heart again. So now I am not only a coward I am a selfish coward! This weekend I texted her and sent her my love, then I wrote her a huge letter telling her I am sorry I am not supporting her in the way I should, but I told her I loved her. I will call this week!

    Yesterday, a co-worker informed me that her husband had been diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the lungs that the surgeon had given him 1-2 months to live without treatment and 8-9 months to live with treatment. My heart dropped again only this time I was able to step into support mode and give some direction as the co-worker is a secretary without medical knowledge or training. Unfortunately she does believe her husband is going to survive and be cured-but I will travel down that path with her another day!

    The moral of the story for me, is I now understand 'The Big C" because in my world it remains the monster.
    Last edit by Joe V on Dec 5, '13
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    About madwife2002, BSN, RN

    Joined: Jan '05; Posts: 10,271; Likes: 6,112
    Director of Nursing Services; from US
    Specialty: 26 year(s) of experience in RN, BSN, CHDN

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  3. by   NutmeggeRN
    I'm glad you told your friend you loved her. That is important.
  4. by   Kipahni
    As person who has worked in Oncology while getting cancer tx for my own diagnosis I see it from both sides. Every person is different but here is what I look back on with my patients and with myself. You don't have to say anything. One of the things I appreciated (though I didn't realize it till after my remission) was when my best friend came and sat with me while I got my tx. Sometimes someones presence is enough. My other best friend lives far away and she would send me packages of random magazines (like a national geographic in Chinese with her writing scribbled on top of it making up the story) or seven different versions of Alice and Wonderland book that she picked up from used stores. or some country time lemonade suckers (it got rid of the nasty metalic taste from chemo).
    I had another friend that would txt me hilarious pics and memes throughout the week.
    Anyway as a pt. I just didn't want to keep talking about my cancer. I didn't want it to be my world. So my friends knew this they would ask how I was feeling and then we would talk about other stuff.
    As a nurse I would be realistic with my patients but I would also tell them about some ways to get through it. I told them that it is a roller coaster. That you have to believe in something, have somewhat good nutrition (and by that I mean at least eat something) and a support system of people and or animals that you can turn to.
    I sometimes think it is harder on the loved ones of the cancer pt, then the pt themself. I hope you will find peace during this suffering.
  5. by   madwife2002
    Thanks to writing this article and getting it off my chest-I did contact my friend today and she needed the support! Thanks for reading
  6. by   RNikkiF
    I too am familiar with cancer. I lost my mother to malignant melanoma almost 22 years ago. I was 17, she was 42. Two of my sisters have had cancer (thankfully just an excision was all that was needed for both). My father in law survived lung cancer, just to die of a major MI. My mother in law and sister in law both had cancerous skin lesions removed (again, excision only). Last May, my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer as well as small cell lung cancer, with mets to the liver. He's been through chemo with few side effects, thank goodness, but our whole family knows where this is going to lead... and today, my sister in law was diagnosed with breast cancer... Now, on to your friend... all she wants to know is that you're there for her and that you're thinking of her and praying for her.

    As nurses, we "turn off" our emotions every day. We don't let ourselves feel too much for our patients or their families, and we try not to allow our personal lives to interfere at work. Now it is time for you to turn the nurse in you off and allow your emotional side to be there to support your friend. I hope everyone on here can see the emotion in your post the way that I can. I don't see you as being selfish at all and you certainly don't sound like a coward. You sound like a nurse who has been trained to be analytical in those types of situations, and you're having a hard time separating the "real" you from the nurse you.

    Just tell her you're sorry to hear that news and that you'll pray for her. Don't tell her you'll be there for her, she's hearing that every time she turns around... just BE there for her. You don't have to announce it. Sounds to me like you're a great friend to have in her corner simply because you care so much.

    I see that you did call her. I hope that it helped both of you.... now let's get out there and get rid of cancer!!
  7. by   madwife2002
    what a lovely supportive post-thank you RNikkrf!
  8. by   Retired APRN
    Your post touched me greatly. I've lost one dear friend to the same cancer that will probably take my life in a year or two, and I have another friend who, after going into remission from colon cancer, is now starting treatment for prostate cancer. I hate this disease.

    It really is hard on friends and loved ones, maybe not harder than it is on thepatient (and I realize that's selfish of me), but perhaps just as hard in a different way. Thank you for writing this heart-felt and supportive post.
  9. by   VivaLasViejas
    Quote from madwife2002

    The moral of the story for me, is I now understand ‘The Big C” because in my world it remains the monster.
    Never were truer words ever spoken. Watching my DH fight his neuroendocrine tumor with courage and resolve, I want to believe he can beat it....but as a nurse I know all too well how the story goes and how it ends, and I am heartsick.
  10. by   brithoover
    Cancer sucks plain and simple. It scares me to death and I work with these patients everyday. Our unit has had 52 deaths so far this year. But then there are so many success stories. Most of the families don't want to talk about cancer all the time, they just want to try and keep life normal through it all. *hugs*
  11. by   kungpoopanda
    I too have lost friends and family members to cancer. In fact a family member has recently received a terminal diagnosis. I use it as inspiration to train for and run to raise funds for cancer research and support services.