During my first year as oncology nurse in the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine, I can recall an experience that has stuck with me over the years. One day, I was triaging patients that had arrived for their scheduled chemotherapy treatments. Despite the distractions and interruptions that the triage nursing role notoriously entails, my attention was drawn to two patients sitting next to each other in our waiting room.
Any bystander would agree that on first glance (and second and third) the two appeared to have absolutely nothing in common. The one was a 40 something year old, burly African American man from North Philly wearing a tattered black t-shirt and untied, worn-out high-top sneakers. He was shamelessly eating a cheesesteak. The other was an elderly Caucasian woman from an affluent town in South Jersey, wearing a meticulously pressed blouse and a bedazzled hat, with bright red lipstick and matching polished fingernails. To my disbelief (and to the astonishment of all other onlookers), the two struck up a lively conversation. Within minutes, they had exchanged phone numbers.
This story is a reminder that cancer does not care about your age or gender. It could care less about how much money you make or have, or where you live or grew up. It is disinterested in the clothes or shoes you wear. It is non-partisan. And in some weird, convoluted way, that is the beauty of it. It puts anyone confronted with or affected by a cancer diagnosis on a level playing field. Most importantly, this story reveals how cancer can be the common thread that brings individuals together who may not have otherwise crossed paths or cared to interact even if they did.
My oncology nursing roles over the years have awarded me endless opportunities to witness, and be a part of, life-lasting bonds blossom between the most dissimilar of patients and support-persons who so naturally learn to lean on each other for comfort, encouragement, security, faith and hope. For me, this is the silver lining, and why I have found a reason to not just hate cancer.
Don’t get me wrong, the list of reasons why I hate cancer is infinite. I hate it for its ability to generate turbulence in the already complicated flow of life. I hate it for stealing my grandfather when I was only 15. I hate it for the financial, emotional, mental, and physical uncertainties it creates for those confronted with a cancer diagnosis. I hate cancer for taking away opportunities to celebrate graduations and birthdays and weddings and anniversaries. Yet with this endless catalog of cancer-related grievances that I share with far too many others, we cannot overlook its power to break down barriers and differences that too often divide us.
While the motto the cancer center I work in is “The Cure is Within”, maybe it should be The Cure is Within and Among us.
Abbey has been a proud member of the Penn Medicine Oncology Nursing team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA since Spring 2012. After two years of working on an inpatient Hematology-Oncology nursing unit, she transitioned to an ambulatory care role in the Abramson Cancer Center as an Infusion Therapy – Chemotherapy Nurse. She is currently pursuing her MSN in Health Leadership with concentrations in Nursing Education and Palliative Care at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation in summer 2019, she hopes to pursue an educator role in oncology within the health system. Abbey is passionate about patient education, integrative practices for symptom management, and teaching IV skills for the Penn Medicine Nurse Residency Program for new-to-practice nurses. She also thoroughly enjoys volunteering her extra time to her husband’s charity Team I Hate Cancer, a cancer-hating wrecking crew dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer fighting causes.