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Diet & Nutrition

Oncology nurse pens apologetic letter to her patients after being diagnosed with cancer herself

“Dear every cancer patient I ever took care of, I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.”

By Ellie McDonald
Lindsay Norris has spent much of her adult life caring for people in hospital, including tending to those who have suffered from cancer.
In a tragic turn of events, just over two months ago, Lindsay was diagnosed with stage-3 colorectal cancer.
Following her diagnosis, she decided to write a heartbreakingly touching letter on her blog Here Comes The Sun 927 to all the cancer patients she ever nursed, apologising for all the things she “didn’t get”.
Below is an edited version of Lindsay’s letter.
“This thought has been weighing heavy on my heart since my diagnosis.”
I’ve worked in oncology nearly my entire adult life. I started rooming and scheduling patients, then worked as a nursing assistant through school, and finally as a nurse in both the inpatient and outpatient settings.
I prided myself in connecting with my patients and helping them manage their cancer and everything that comes with it. I really thought I got it – I really thought I knew what it felt like to go through this journey.
I didn’t.
”I didn’t get how hard the waiting is. It’s literally the worst part.”
The diagnosis process takes forever. The different consults, the biopsies, the exams and procedures… and the scans. Ugh, the scans.
You were going through the motions trying to stay positive – but at that point, you had no idea what you were dealing with and the unknown was terrifying. Knowing the cancer is there and knowing you’re not doing anything to treat is yet is an awful, helpless feeling.
I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
“I didn’t get how much you hung on to every word I said to you.”
You replayed it in your mind a hundred times. ‘Did I really mean this or that…’ you wondered if you understood. You called me again to make sure. And maybe another time because your friend asked, ‘Well, what about _.’
You asked your other nurses to see if you got the same answer. Please know we are happy to take a million calls a day with the same questions until you can make sense of it.
I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
”I didn’t get how weird it felt to be called ‘brave’.”
It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, [and] yeah, it kind of made you feel good – but you still didn’t really understand why people would call you this.
Sure, you were getting through it fine (most days), but it’s not like you had a choice. I’m getting treatment because I have to- doesn’t really make me feel like much of a hero.
I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
“I didn’t get how hard it is to accept help. Especially the mums.”
This just wasn’t something you’re used to doing - but you needed it. You felt shy about admitting that you’re not sure you could’ve gotten through the first few months without the extra food, gift cards, support, and other help you were given.
You felt humbled at the outpouring and just only hoped you would’ve done the same for them. You still wonder if you said thank you enough or if you missed an opportunity to give back.
I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
”I didn’t get how strange it was to see your body changing so quickly.”
You stood there and looked at yourself in disbelief in the mirror. Maybe it was extreme swelling, maybe it was scars, maybe it was hair loss, maybe it was pounds melting away when you do everything in your power to eat as much as you can.
It’s hard – your appearance is tied more closely to your identity than you’d like to admit and these were constant reminders of what you were up against. You just wanted to feel like yourself.
I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
”I didn’t get that it never ends. Never.”
I used to tell you that cancer will be just a phase in your life. Just like high school or something, it seems like it drags on and on when you’re in it, but soon it’ll all be a memory.
I’m sorry if this made you feel marginalized – it is not a phase. Yes, there are phases- the treatment won’t last forever, but you are changed now. The worrying won’t stop, the uncertainty won’t stop, the fear of recurrence or an awful end won’t stop. I hear that gets better – time will tell. And time is precious.
I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
"I do have to admit: I’ve probably had it a little easier than you to start off."
I know the language, I know all the right people, I work where I get treatment so, sure, it’s more convenient.
I watched so many of you march through this terrible nightmare with a brave face and determination – without knowing one thing about cancer ahead of time, other than knowing you didn’t ever want to get it. You’ve always been my inspiration and I love each and every one of you.
Nothing brings me more joy that when I see you reach your goals and slowly put yourself back together. I love when we get visits or notes from those of you who are several years out and doing great; it’s good for the oncology nurses’ soul.
Even though healthcare workers don’t really know what it’s like to be you (well, us) it’s OK. Nobody does. I just hope that I was still able to give you a little guidance and strength to help you get through your cancer treatment.
Even if I didn’t get it.
Love,
Lindsay, Oncology RN

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