(Content courtesy of the National Breast Cancer Foundation)
By Janelle Hail
At 12:05 a.m. light streamed across my bed as the door opened into my hospital room. It was not unusual for nurses to come and go at all hours. I was wide awake, anyway, since I could find no peace and rest from my inner turmoil. My nearly perfect life had been wrecked by the intrusion of breast cancer. I couldn’t understand what had happened. Neal and I had been married 15 years and had three sons ages 13, 10 and 3. We were about to move into a new home Neal had custom built for us. Now, one day after a mastectomy, I was picking up the pieces of my life and trying to figure out how to cope.
The nurse who entered my room had a familiar face. I knew her from church, where she seemed quiet and reserved. For some reason our lives had not intersected, except for an occasional greeting in the crowded church foyer.
That night she took my vitals and then did something extraordinary. She pulled up a chair and sat at my bedside, and without saying a word, took my hand. For about five minutes, she held my hand in silence. She was sensitive that I had cried away all my words and had nothing more to say.
Others had offered encouraging, sometimes clumsy, words and well wishes for my broken heart. Even an occasional book was left for me, which meant nothing in this dark hour of my life. This dear lady gave me the gift of understanding and hope by not making me struggle to hold a conversation or make excuses for why such a terrible thing happened to me. With her silence, she let my soul rest and gave me comfort with her kind touch. It was like having Jesus holding my hand and enveloping me with His love.
The dark days passed and my life moved on — a life filled with family, friends and a future. Little did I know that during my hospital stay God would drop something in my heart, a deepened compassion that started with that sweet nurse. My husband and I founded NBCF several years later to help women with no means of helping themselves get free mammograms and medical assistance while facing breast cancer.
A couple of years ago, Neal and I were having lunch with his brother, Don, and his new wife. We knew her years ago when we all went to the same church. In fact, Don and Debbie dated as young teens and reconnected many years later. I told Debbie of the kind nurse whose name I couldn’t remember. I always wanted to tell the nurse what her kindness had meant to me. Debbie’s face became somber and her mouth fell open.
“That was my mother, Frances Gieger,” she said. There was a stunned silence at the table. Silence again had spoken more than any words could have. Frances was no longer living, but her silence left a legacy.
Why do we feel we have to fill the atmosphere with words, as though everything we say will make things right? When talking with someone facing breast cancer, observe their needs and allow them to tell you what is important to them.
Janelle Hail, co-founder and CEO of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, underwent breast cancer treatment in 1980. She wrote this tribute as a powerful reminder of the impact nurses make through their compassion.
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