A young woman by the name of Lindsay, an oncology RN, has penned an emotional blog entry dedicated to each cancer patient she has treated over the years. She wants them to know she’s terribly sorry she didn’t “get it.”
Last month, the nurse announced via her website, Here Comes the Sun, that she was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer in early fall of this year. And now that she has become the patient, Lindsay wrote, she feels a deep sense of remorse.
“I prided myself in connecting with my patients and helping them manage their cancer and everything that comes with it,” she stated in her post. “I really thought I got it — I really thought I knew what it felt like to go through this journey. I didn’t.”
In her opinion, she didn’t understand anything — the mood swings; feeling left out, confused, overwhelmed, and scared; how difficult the waiting can be; and how much a cancer patient becomes obsessed with doing research on the Internet. She ended nearly every paragraph with the same two sentences: “I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.”
“I started crying while reading it — I was actually moved to tears,” Heather Von St. James, an 11-year mesothelioma cancer survivor from Minnesota, tells Yahoo Beauty. The phrase that struck this mother, wife, blogger, and cancer research advocate the most was: “I didn’t get it.” She explains, “Those words spoke so loudly to me because until you are in it, you won’t get it. You can be a caregiver, you can be the most involved doctor or nurse, but until you get that diagnosis — until your body is going through it — you won’t get it.”
Yet Von St. James never anticipated her health care team would truly comprehend her situation — nor did she expect them to.
“I cannot imagine what the doctors and nurses go through having to deal with this day after day, patient after patient,” she states. “I think one would have to be a little bit standoffish in order not to get sucked in.”
She then refers to her physician, Dr. David Sugarbaker — the surgeon she meets with twice a year and the man she credits with saving her life. “As Dr. Sugarbaker said to me, ‘I need to see you more than you need to see me,’” recalls Von St. James.
After all, her prognosis was grim. At the age of 36 — just three months after giving birth to her daughter, Lily Rose — Von St. James was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and was originally told she had about 15 months to live.
“Mesothelioma has a death rate of 90 percent and about 2 percent of the patients make it after three years,” she says. “By the time a lot of the people come to see [her doctor], they’re terminal, inoperable, and a lot of these patients die. So being faced with this reality day after day, especially in the cancer world, you would have to have some sort of a wall up.”
Von St. James then recites Lindsay’s paragraph about people calling her brave.
“That to me spoke volumes because I hated it when people called me brave!’ she admits. “People would say to me, ‘You’re a superhero!’ and ‘You’re so brave to raise your daughter!’ and I’d smile and grit my teeth because it drove me crazy. What did they think, that I was going to ship her off to boarding school at 1? It wasn’t a choice — it was what [I and my husband] had to do.”
And while she understands the reasons why others referred to her — and now Lindsay — as brave, she admits that she found her true strength from gazing at her daughter.
“It was in the moments at 2 o’clock in the morning when I was feeling so sick where I’d stand over my baby’s crib and knew I had to fight,” she says in a soft voice. “I’d look at her and I knew I had to live to raise her. That was probably the most real it ever got — watching her sleep in the dark and just thinking, ‘I have to be here for her.’ It’s those raw emotions, that’s what carried me through.”
Similarly, another frequent comment Von St. James would hear from others was: “I could never go through what you went through.”
“My response is, ‘Until you’re faced with it, you don’t know,’” she states. “I always say, I’m stronger than I ever thought I was — and I didn’t realize how strong I could be until I needed to be.”
And the third item in Lindsay’s blog that struck a chord with Von St. James was at the end, where the nurse wrote: “I hear that it gets better — time will tell.”
“Yes, it does get better,” she stresses. “While I don’t get the ‘scansxiety’ that I used to — I call it that! — when I go into the CT scan, I still pray like crazy when I go in there. Now when I get out, I have trust and faith in my medical team that if anything were to happen, they have my best interests at heart and will do everything they can. And I will know what’s right and what needs to be done. But that — trusting your gut — comes, I think, with time.”
November 21st will mark 11 years since Von St. James received her diagnosis. (“I joke that I’m ‘in the black’ because when you’re in the black financially, that’s a good thing!”) And just days before the anniversary of beginning her personal cancer journey, she offers a few heartfelt messages for Lindsay.
“It’s OK that you didn’t get it,” she states. “I wouldn’t have expected you to. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take what you can and learn from it, and know that what you’re going through now is temporary. And also know that you will come out of it on the other side — stronger than you ever thought you could be.”