I've worked in cancer care for the past six years, been a nurse for thirty-one years. Friday we had a young woman, thirty-four I think, come to us for an MRI scan. Query spinal cord compression. She had back pain, incontinence and a seizure on the way upstairs from radiation. Last month she had total brain irradiation for leptomeningeal disease. Her husband was wonderful. They were both wonderful young people. And that's the problem they were young and she's dying.
This past week has had one patient after another about my age with cancer, with advanced cancer. More than once when explaining procedures to patients, both the patient and their spouse have burst into tears. A man two years older than me with stage four bowel cancer with less than a year to live. A twenty-seven year old with stomach cancer and less than a year to live. And it breaks my heart every single fucking time. I'm tired of people dying.
I'm tired of seeing patients come back year after year, or month after month, looking just a little worse each time until they just don't come back anymore. It used to be that I could ignore the fact that I don't see certain people anymore. But then I look back six years and realize all the people that just don't come anymore for scans and it becomes overwhelming, the grief and the pain.
I've become friends with some of my patients. One woman and her husband came to our wedding. I run into people out walking or at the mall. I joke with my patients. I know what some of them do for a living, how many kids they have, that they foster children, that they hate making pickles, that they love chocolate cake. I have a connection with so many of them and that connection keeps getting broken.
I'm feeling overwhelmed lately with their grief and my own grief. My boss thinks it's a job but it's not just a job, at least not for me, and that's what's making it so hard. I'm burnt out.
All of this death is getting to me. I keep thinking about my own mortality and wondering what it is I am meant to do with this one short, precious life of mine and I wonder how I will feel when I am told that my days here are numbered. Will I be satisfied with what I've done, how I've loved? I'm feeling rather old and mortal lately which I suppose scares me a little, a lot.
I have left behind the age of endless tomorrows and I'm struggling to feel at ease with my own mortality.