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Our Breast Cancer Journeys Created a Special Bond


I've been a perioperative nurse for 34 years, and I've cared for too many patients to count. But there are a few patients who made a special impact on me, just as I did on them. Their wisdom, strength, and courage made a difference in my life and influenced the way I would care for my patients. One patient stands out above the rest.

Common Ground

My patient was a shining example of hope and kindness in the face of adversity. Her name was Lily, like a flower, which was appropriate because she was beautiful both inside and out. Sadly, she had a mass in one of her breasts and knew it was breast cancer. I was all too familiar with her diagnosis. [caption id="attachment_103090" align="alignleft" width="264"] Nancy Cohen, BSN, RN[/caption] Lily was a mother to three young children and a wife to an extremely concerned and loving husband. Although she expressed how scared she was about the outcome of her surgery and her future in general, she clutched onto hope and was determined to not let it go. She had a strong faith in God and said everything was in his hands. I listened to her every word and assured her that I would be there for the duration of the surgery. And as promised, I held Lily's hand as the anesthesia kicked in and I stayed by her side as she awoke. Only a few years earlier, when I was 31 years old, I was diagnosed with the same dreaded disease. I was blindsided by the news. How could this happen? I followed a strict diet and exercised regularly. Was it something in the water, the air, the environment? I was completely dumbfounded. But life moved forward. A few months after multiple surgeries to remove the cancer and four grueling cycles of chemotherapy, I married a man who would demonstrate his unwavering support and love.

After such a difficult period in my life, I resolved to make a difference in the lives of patients like Lily, as a nurse and by volunteering and participating in breast cancer support groups and hotlines.

Staying by Her Side

With Lily, I was determined to follow the "continuity of care" nursing philosophy, even though my perioperative duties were technically completed once surgery had ended. I was no longer legally bound to continue caring for Lily after transferring her to the recovery room unit, but I sat with her as she slowly emerged from anesthesia and became aware of her surroundings. I asked about her three children and her family life as a working mother, and she asked about my own recovery from cancer.

A Patient-Nurse Reunion

Less than a year later, I bumped into Lily at a breast cancer conference. I was absolutely elated to see her. Her hair was growing back, and she was beaming. We exchanged information and kept in touch over the years. She told me joyous stories about each of her children, their growth milestones, and their academic and athletic accomplishments. At the time of the conference, my son was in kindergarten, and my father had been diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer. She offered me a shoulder to lean on, kindness, compassion, and her heartfelt prayers. We also compared notes on genetic mutations that can cause someone to be predisposed to developing breast cancer as well as ovarian, colon, and pancreatic cancer. As it turned out, she had one genetic mutation, and I had a different, but similar, mutation. We had more in common than we originally thought.

A Seed of Hope

Lily and I lost touch after a few years, but I often wonder how she is doing. In our lives, there will always be times of happiness and moments of sadness and despair. But each time I spoke to Lily, I felt uplifted and grateful that this very special patient had entered my life. In our moments together, we shared a small seed of hope, and to this day, I have never forgotten our bond and our connection. I hope and pray she is still alive and graces the Earth with her angelic presence. Share our nurse stories with us!