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I couldn't do that...

10 June 2016

One of the things I hear a lot when I talk about my job as a palliative nurse, from nurses as much as from other people, is: "Oh, I could not do that. That sounds so sad". Strangely enough, I find my job very uplifting most of the time. I am able to help people at the end of their lives by being there for them and for their family. The desperation of hoping for a cure is gone and all the energy and time can be focused on making things as good as they can be. To me, that lifting of that burden makes a lot of difference.

I became a nurse after my experience with Jane. I will happily admit that some of it most certainly has to do with using my job to "make up" for some of the things I feel I did "wrong" when I looked after Jane. But this therapeutic part of my job is getting smaller and smaller and I mostly love this job because I seem to just love providing palliative and end of life care. I used to find it difficult to look after people with brain tumours but not anymore. I am currently looking after a young woman with a brain tumour and everything is reminding me of Jane. She even looks the same due to the medication she has been on.Whilst in the past this might have made me cry, these days it reminds me of the precious time I got to spend with Jane when she was in that situation. Time that was made so much easier by the fantastic support from nurses, health care assistants and doctors.

Every nurse seems to have their own "thing" that they say they couldn't do. I can't imagine looking after children. I'm not good with kids and I find it rather unfair of nature to make them ill. It makes me angry. But my main "I couldn't do that" is oncology. And that is related entirely to Jane. I was watching the excellent The Big C and Me on the BBC this morning and I was in floods of tears. I just could not deal with seeing those people going through their treatment. I remember all too well the feelings of hope, desperation, hope, anger, terror, desperation and loss of future. Working as an oncology nurse would destroy me. Call it an un-resolved emotional issue but I simply cannot watch people go through treatment without feeling all the emotions again. When I see people survive brain tumours, I'm happy for them but also a little bit angry and jealous. I could just not do that job.

And yet, when it comes to end of life care, all I feel is positive emotions. I feel the ability to use what I went through and make things better for other people.

I guess the whole "I couldn't do that" is just another way of making sense of our personal experiences. We learn to deal with what happens to us so we feel we could cope with it. I remember Jane once telling someone with breast cancer that she could not imagine having breast cancer. She thought that would be much worse than a brain tumour. And the lady with breast cancer said the exact opposite. Perhaps then, my inability to cope with oncology is because I just never learned to deal with it when Jane was going through it. I only really found my strength once it became clear she wasn't going to live. I hit my stride and found what I was good at: looking after a dying person. I'm glad there are other people who are looking after people going through cancer treatment. Because I just couldn't do that.

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