This past week, I had the opportunity to write a blog post about my experiences with cancer survivorship issues for Cancer Knowledge Network, an awesome organization that works to keep patients and families as informed and supported as possible. You can find my post here if you would like to read it! It's especially relevant to young survivors who are navigating the challenges caused by the long-term impact of cancer treatment!
This weekend I came home to Baltimore to celebrate the beautiful life of my nurse, Susan Rodgers. I have had several good friends over the years and have been cared for by many wonderful, talented people. But, Sue was unique. She was a kindred spirit. She exuded positivity and joy at all times, and moved through life with a serenity that amazed me.
I firmly believe I would not have been able to learn how to think positive or smile in the midst of hardship as easily as I did were it not for her. In my first weeks of relapse treatment, I met Sue at the outpatient clinic. She was assigned as my nurse and so I visited with her every week, sometimes more than once a week. Little did I know, we would form a bond that would carry me through those two and a half long years and beyond.
Sue was diagnosed with a relapse of the breast cancer she had had ten years earlier shortly after I began my treatment (or possibly shortly before, I can't quite remember). Considering I had relapsed ten years after my first diagnosis, she was the only person I knew who could understand what I was going through. Sue fought that breast cancer throughout my treatment, working full time for the most part, with the exception of several months in the middle of my treatment when her own became more intensive. When Sue took time off, I was so glad to have been cared for by her dear friend, and fellow pediatric oncology nurse, Colleen. Colleen always kept me updated on how Sue was doing during those months, and for that I will always be grateful. Between Sue and Colleen I received so much love and care.
When Sue returned to Hopkins, I was so excited to have her back. We resumed our typical conversations - talking of gardens and ladybugs and traveling and cancer treatment, as she accessed my port, shot Lupron into my hip, or hung chemotherapy on my IV pole. When I would sit in one of the outpatient clinic rooms getting chemo, she would come in to sit with my mom and I and chat for a while. She'd tell us how her treatment was going and we'd talk about mine. We'd compare notes on coping with side effects and laugh about silly problems related to our treatments. No matter what, no matter when, she had a smile on her face.
Sue was gifted in many ways: her smile, her faith, her positivity, her serenity, her hope, her happiness, her determination, her perseverance, her dedication to her profession.
However, I believe her greatest gift - and one I often think about - is her ability to heal and help, without inflicting any pain. I never once received a shot, injection, IV, or port access from her that hurt in any way at all. Considering I received hundreds of those throughout my treatment, and by many different people, I know how significant and difficult it can be for someone to do all those things without inflicting pain. The amount of pain and fear she probably saved me is something I will never be able to quantify.
When my treatment ended, Sue was there to sing happy end of chemo to me and she came to my end of chemo party. In the following months and years, we had lunch together several times, and chatted about our lives. One time, my mom and I picked her up from her house to take her out for lunch. I remember that the most fondly because when we came back from lunch, she showed us her gorgeous garden, the one filled with the ladybugs and butterflies and all of the flowers she had talked about with me so many times during my treatment. Seeing that garden, one cannot help but be filled with peace and joy!
When Sue retired, I was able to FaceTime in to her retirement celebration at Johns Hopkins, thanks to some awesome pediatric oncology staff.
When her body began to struggle more to live in spite of her disease, and my school brought me far away, our lunches stopped. But, but our talking didn't. I messaged her often on Facebook and she frequently wrote me cards. She signed all of her cards and messages saying: with love and caring thoughts - so representative of her whole manner of being. When I spent a semester studying abroad in the Netherlands, I made sure I brought something back for Sue. Somewhere in my travels through Italy, I had found a craft market where someone had painted a dark gray stone with green grass, yellow flowers, and ladybugs. I took one look at it and I knew I had to bring it back for Sue to put in her garden. I mailed it to her with a note and promptly received a thank you note back :)
This past summer, while my family was on vacation in Florida, my mom and I called Sue for her birthday. We talked for a long while on the phone, as Sue told us how she was doing and hinted at the fact that things were getting harder for her. However, she never sounded down or sad or anything - she sounded just as chipper and positive and happy as ever.
Sitting down to write my book this summer, I spent so much time thinking back on all of those experiences and reminiscing on all of the smiles we shared. I knew I had to acknowledge Sue in my book. Her friendship and care have changed my life for the better and, while I do not personally believe there is a way to express enough gratitude for what she has done for me, I hope I can honor her and her decades of work through my book.
When I finally published the book on October 25th, the timing seemed like a stroke of fate. The very day that I published my book, I received a text message from her husband saying that she was on hospice care at home and that many good friends were caring for her. I immediately called my parents and told them the news. We talked and decided that they would go visit Sue to bring her a copy of my book. They did just that.
Less than two weeks later, on Friday, November 6th, Sue passed away. While I am heartbroken that I did not get to say goodbye to her in person, I am so incredibly glad that I was able to do so through my parents and my book.
So, when you read Sue's endorsement on the back of my book, see her name in the acknowledgments, or read about her in the pages, send up a little thank you to her for me. I will forever be grateful to her for being a dear friend and incredible caregiver to me when I needed it most. Even though I will no longer be able to Facebook message her when something exciting happens, get lunch with her when I'm home on break, or call her for her birthday, I will giggle every time I see a ladybug, I will smile when I walk through a garden, and I will be filled with hope whenever the sun shines through my window - illuminating the stained-glass bluebird she gave me when I finished my treatment.
Susan Rodgers, thank you for the care, friendship, inspiration, motivation, and positivity you shared with me <3
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