Do you ever open the blinds in here during the day? I asked. Not really, she replied.
I was pushing in the last few milliliters of a stem cell transplant. The room was dark, the blinds were closed and there was a stillness in the air. It was just me and her in the room. She hasn’t had an easy go of her course of cancer treatment, by any means. Infections set her back, family has been scarce, vomiting has gotten the best of her mornings. But she’s here and she’s pushed through. The transplant is almost finished and I decide it’s time to open the blinds and let some light in. It was pouring, like all Florida summers do. The sky was dark, I looked back at her port, pushed the last bit of stem cells through and then… the rain stopped. The double rainbow appeared and we both just looked at each other and smiled. The darkness was coming to an end, the promise of a new life was in my syringe, but also outside of that window. The storm was over. The new beginning was approaching. Life, I thought. What a gift.
I used to get overly excited when people would ask what I do for work. “Pediatric oncology” I would basically yell with excitement. But the looks and the responses all started to be the same “I don’t know how you deal with that.” “Oh that must be awful.” “How are you excited working with kids with cancer?” So my answers begun to get less enthusiastic and I began to dread when people asked me where I worked.
I stopped doing that recently because I stopped feeling guilty about the realization that I’ve learned how to fully live while working on a pediatric oncology unit. I’ve learned to appreciate the smallest of moments, celebrate the tiniest achievements and I’ve learned what it means to enjoy the moment because the next one is never promised.
Landing a job in the pediatric oncology world isn’t easy. And I know that first hand because I applied 17 times before I even got an interview. But there’s a reason it isn’t easy. I am fortunate enough to be around the most incredible individuals to ever walk this earth. I wish I could explain the feeling that I get getting to be around the strongest, most resilient kids and their families every single day. I imagine it’s a similar feeling that a child gets when they get to meet their hero. It is a GIFT to be able to learn life lessons from toddlers and teenagers on how to live life and what it means to just keep swimming.
While I’ve had some of the worst days of my life on this unit, I’ve definitely had days I’ve left with a full heart. I wish everyone could see the beauty of a pediatric oncology ward. The belly laughs being echoed in the room, the feet running through the hallway, the balls bouncing off the walls and the bonds being formed will bring a smile to anyone. The relationships you form with families at their most vulnerable will leave you feeling full. There’s something about walking into a patients room and hearing “Nurse Erin! Can I paint your nails?(YES!) Do you need a new tattoo? (yes!). Can I see what you looked like when you were my age? (Of course!) Why is your finger nail lumpy? (I just ripped my gel polish off so you could paint them, thank you very much!🤣). These moments will never get old. There’s something amazing about walking into a room to a teenager sending selfies to their friends while getting pumped full of chemo that will bring you so much joy and there’s something incredible about leaving work feeling like you just spent 12 hours with your idols.
Life continues on here, no matter how many times it feels like it’s stopped. But there’s something incredibly encouraging about that, isn’t there? Open the blinds, the rainbow awaits.