“Before, During and After Chemotherapy”

My passion in nursing has always been in the geriatric and psychiatric specialties.  I have been told throughout my career that I wasn’t a “real” nurse, because I never worked in the hospital.  Throughout my adult life I was also told I wasn’t a “real” woman.  I see in the geriatric community, the medical professionals looked to our aging population as not “real” candidates to treat anymore, and most definitely in the psychiatric population, the diagnosis’s aren’t considered “real” by some in the medical community, especially when it comes to addiction or personality disorders.  So today, I decided to look up the actually definition of “real”.

“Real” had two meanings.  The first was defined as actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.  The second definition was (of a substance or thing) not imitation or artificial; genuine.  As I thought more deeply about this I grew strength and courage in the fact that I am actually existing and I am genuine.  It helped me accept myself as a “real” nurse, a “real” woman, with a “real” story.  My elderly patients have stories too, and my patients with mental health issues are battling “real” pain.  Have you ever taken the time to listen and see “The person before the illness?”  We all have a story.

I met a man this week who was 93 years young.  He was a Veteran of the United States Navy who served in WWII and finished his career as a Chief in the Reserves.  He recently lost his wife of 63 years, and I found out that at the end of this month he would be getting his sobriety coin of 43 years of being sober.  I would have never thought he suffered from alcoholism.  I asked him why he decided all those years ago to get sober.  He simply stated, “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  He said to me with tears in his eyes, “I only hope that the last 40 years of my marriage made up for the first 23 years I was drunk.”  I would have never known this strong, handsome, elderly Veteran had overcome such obstacles.  He also shared with me a book of poems and letters that he had written to his wife.  Some where copies of poems he had written for her when she was alive, but was amazed me and filled my eyes with my own tears was the letters and poems that he continues to write to her today, even though she has passed away.  As I walked away from our encounter, I felt “real”.

I look at images of my journey, especially since my second diagnosis with breast cancer in May of 2013 and my decision to become public with so much of my personal journey.  I have inspired some people, I have empowered others, and then there are those who I have opened myself up to even deeper ridicule and vulnerability, but this is “real”.  “Real” pain, “real” life, “real” choices that brought so much chaos and despair to my life at times in which I truly believe ignited the “real” cancer cells that traveled through my body not once, but twice.  The left total mastectomy left me feeling even less than a “real” woman and then chemotherapy added to my ongoing body image struggles as I lost my hair, my feelings of inadequacy were overwhelming.  It was then that I had the amazing opportunity to work with Kim Sajkowicz Matarese, an amazing photographer who taught me about the perceptions behind the lens of a camera.

What is “real” beauty?  If you asked one hundred different people we would have many different responses, opinions I guess we could say.  So with Kim’s help, I’ve learned to look inside.  That is where I found “real”.  “Real” pain, “real” emotions, “real” scars, “real” fear, “real”, “real”, “real”……

We all have a story.  Be kind.  Be understanding and empathetic to each others journey.  Take time to listen.  I mean hear.  You would be amazed at what you might actually find in what you perceive as “real”.

Reflections of a Cannabis Nurse,

Nique Pichette MSN, RN