Friends Remembered

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Just a moment for a real-time report from western Ireland.  We have been traveling with our friends to Traylee, the Dingle Peninsula, Cork, Killarney, Cachel, and today Connemera.  We seem to have brought record-breaking amounts of rain with us.  Roads are closed due to flooding.  The road from Galway back to Dublin may be flooded tomorrow.  This is wild, craggy country with gale-force winds and near-constant drizzle.  We have walked on paths carved out over three milennia.  The people are lovely,  friendly and helpful, but hard to understand at times – is he speaking English or Irish (Gaelic)?  Heading home, somewhat relunctantly, on Sunday.  Take care, Dennis

Journal: April 2002 One day the clinic was very busy, not enough chairs and rooms. Jane, a cardiac nurse with a new diagnosis of colon cancer and a neighbor of Hope, a nurse from my unit, arrived for her usual Wednesday appointment. On this day we shared a pole and discovered that we each like Dr. Pepper. After I finish the Dr. Pepper I said that I had to go to the bathroom and that since she was attached to the same IV pole and was a nurse anyway, that she would have to accompany me. But she made me wait until my CamPath was in and I was no longer connected to the pole.

On this day there were four of us nurses: Hope, Jane, Marie and myself. The staff was very busy that day, treating patients not only in the chairs but in the exam rooms as well. As Jane and I sat getting our drugs, Hope and Marie were passing out candy, helping the other patients, including comforting an older lady who was scared and crying. Cancer nursing, it’s not just a job, it is who we are.

Doug is another friend we met – Doug the “TV man” since he always brought a small TV. When I first met him he told me that he had been there several times when I had my infusion reaction. He said that he wanted to cry for me, he felt so badly for me. Doug loved to talk, he talked with everyone. We discovered that we had a mutual passion for boats and that we only lived a few blocks apart. Doug is about ten years older than I am. He has lung cancer complicated by congestive heart failure. I plan to call him to come over when we begin to commission the Bayfield sailboat this spring after he returns from a long-awaited trip to Florida. Sometimes we try to reward ourselves when a treatment segment has ended. Besides Doug is not doing very well medically and he knows it.

Weeks ago, as I became aware of the other patients and began to interact with them, I noticed an older man who always came to his therapy alone. We were talking to another couple in the waiting room. After I went back to the treatment room, I felt a little bad that we did not acknowledge him though I thought neither did he join our conversation. He always slept during his treatment after his premedication. The next time I saw him, I offered candy and spoke with him a while. We never spoke much as he seemed a quiet and shy sort of fellow. But I always acknowledged him when he came for his treatment. Even though he was at least ten years older, he always referred to me as “Sir”.

One day I asked to take his photograph, reclining in his chair and getting, as it turns out, his last dose of chemotherapy. But he said that he had an appointment to see his physician the following week. I could give him his copy of the photograph on that day. The following week he came back to the treatment area to be weighed. We caught his attention before he entered the exam room. I handed him his photograph. He thanked me and said he wished me well. After twenty minutes Dr. Markham exited the exam room, followed in a few minutes by this man. Marie said later that it appeared to her that he had been crying. His face was red. He walked straight over to my chair and took my hand and said that he had gotten good news – that they just needed to watch things now, no more treatments. He shook my hand earnestly and told me that he hoped that someday I also would get the same good news. I felt it a measure of honor that the very first thing he did after his momentous appointment was to share the news with me. This level of sharing is one of the reasons that I chose and continue to be involved in cancer nursing.

I have thought for a long time that, after working for fourteen years with cancer patients, I understood them pretty well, that I had some idea of what they and their families were going through. But now I have come to understand that my appreciation of that experience lacked an essential existential dimension. Now when I relate to people affected by cancer, it is not only as an oncology professional but also as a fellow sufferer, someone who has been touched most deeply and profoundly by this fearful set of diseases. There is a connection between us that unfortunately cannot be made in any other way.

I am aware that throughout these past one hundred or so days I have never stopped being a cancer nurse. I have never stopped wanting to learn more about cancer, treatment, and research. I have never stopped wanting to continue in what is actually a ministry of sorts. I speak of ministry in a broadly spiritual though not religious sense. The ministry of helping other human beings, of contributing to their welfare, of making a difference in their lives – and in doing so, affecting a profound and meaningful difference in our own lives.

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About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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