Writing in the dusk from the garden. Stopped and bought some lavender, mint and parsley today, and a perennial that I like and accidentally killed last year. The sounds of Friday night are relaxing; the bar behind my garden’s music is muffled mixing with the trees blowing in the chilling wind and my neighbor’s clinking dinnertime noises. This place is silence, somehow, a reprieve from the busy day and the busy night ahead.
I wrote to the Doodlers about a nurse named Amy Berman tonight. You may have heard of her – she’s dying of cancer. Or that’s what her doctors say, anyway. She chose palliative options over curative back in 2010, and has been speaking, writing, touring, tweeting ever since. Pretty amazing for someone who was given little time to survive.
When I think of her and her choice, here in my weird garden, I realize how valuable life is. How much I want to live my life the way Amy lives hers – her own way. In illness, especially. Too many people are strapped in beds, following orders that will never lead to life as they wish it to be, missing out on Friday nights, and smoking medical pot, and being with family, and doing whatever they want that isn’t in the hospital.
I love Amy’s story, and I love telling it to my patient’s and my friends, and now the Doodlers. She deserves a doodle a day for the rest of forever – for her bravery, and her wisdom, and her fight for her right battle.
Subject: Why Nurses Need @GoogleDoodles: Day 26, Garden Writing & Choosing Your Cancer Battle
May 2, 2014. 7:56PM.
Holy moly, only 4 more days to convince you to post a National Nurses Day Google Doodle?! What will I do with all my spare time when May 6 rolls around?
I mentioned briefly in my e-mail last night that I helped insert an IV in a cancer patient at work yesterday. I’ve been thinking about her today, and her frazzled nurse, and her warm, soft hand that easily accepted my IV attempt. She was so grateful, telling me she’d been stuck many times that day, and so appreciated when nurses came and got IVs in on the first try. Her nurse looked on sheepishly, the IV had been fairly easy, but I was glad to give this woman, who had been in and out of cancer treatment for years, at least a small break in her pain.
I’ve seen countless patients like her, many in far more progressed stages of illness, with far more months of treatment and horror stories of options under their belt. Cancer is a strange disease, so often tied to this “war” mentality; fight or be taken over, battle or be weak. So often, it seems patients are presented with little else but false hope, spending their last days on machines and medications instead of in their own beds, family beside. Where is the middle ground?
But there are people out there who take other, less aggressive options. One happens to be a nurse named Amy Berman. Amy was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer in 2010, and when presented with her list of options by the country’s top specialist, more as an order than an option, she backed out.
Instead, she looked at the research behind this “mandated” care, and found that the results weren’t all that great. She went with a less traditional, less invasive form of treatment via hormone therapy, deciding to take a risk with her odds and focus on palliation, the treatment of symptoms, instead of an arduous battle for an unlikely cure.
That was almost four years ago. Today, Amy still tours the country, speaking about her choice for palliative care over aggressive care, and the problems with the way chronic illness (because yes, for many, cancer is a chronic illness) is treated in our country. I heard her speak a few years ago in a class of mine, right after Hurricane Sandy hit. I remember, we were all huddled in a makeshift space in the library, sharing our storm stories, when Amy arrived. Blonde and petite, she never stopped smiling. Her soft voice told us the story of her diagnosis, and her choice for treatment. I’ll never forget her simple rationalization; she said she wanted a ‘Niagara Falls trajectory.’ In other words, in lieu of a slow, painful decline, she’s opting to feel good as long as she can, and then quickly succumb to her illness.
Amy had a nursing education and background as a policy expert at the Hartford Foundation to steer her treatment battle. She staked it, all right – against her cancer, but against her choices, too. Choosing to be proactive about her symptoms instead of her cure, Amy has is not only enjoying her life with cancer, she’s enjoying it outside of the hospital while helping other patients recognize their options, too.
Amazing, what nurses do, even when ill. Amy touched my heart and life so deeply when I met her, I think she alone deserves a year of Google Doodles. I inquire about her often, and share her story with patients and friends. What if everyone had a chance to be told the “other” options that have given Amy and her family so much vitality and happiness for all of these hospital-free years? We all deserve a fair fight, but as the saying goes, perhaps we need a little more council on which battle to pick.
Amanda Anderson, RN