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My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

Ratings:
292 pages3 hours

Summary

This is a moving and realistic look at what it was like to care for children with cancer, particularly leukemia, on night shift in the Hematology-Oncology unit at one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals.

Here are some quotations from the book. The first describes how I felt when I had only seen those children from a distance.

"I can easily explain why I didn't want to work Hem-Onc. First, look at the picture of the lovely little girl at the start of this chapter (as well as the front cover of the print edition). Made up to look like a bunny, perhaps for a birthday party, she seems in robust good health, doesn't she? Now look at the girl whose picture opens the next chapter (and the back cover of the print edition). Yes, it's the same girl, maybe only a few months later. She's been diagnosed with leukemia and blasted with the horrors of chemotherapy.

"Those two pictures demonstrate far better than any words I might say what working on Hem-Onc meant. It meant being one of those who transformed children who came in looking like the first picture into those who looked like the second. Would you want to do that? Neither did I. There was nothing I wanted less to do. Nothing at all.

And this, describing how I felt after I began to actually work with those children:

"Discovering that I was to work nights on Hem-Onc was one of the most unsettling experiences of my life. After a month of training in caring for kids who weren’t that sick, I suddenly found myself expected to care for children who were battling cancers that could easily kill them—terribly sick kids that I’d not wanted to get near just days before.

"How did I make the transition? To be honest, I don’t know. It happened so quickly, I don’t recall the details. One moment I was shocked to discover that I was to do the very work I’d wanted to avoid at all costs. The next, my memories are of wanting to work with these kids to the exclusion of all else. It may have taken several hours. It may have taken several nights. I’m not sure. All I know is that it happened quickly."

The book goes on to describe what I learned caring for those children, including this insight:

"Binky’s kindness to us illustrates something that took me many years to understand. Why did some children, despite all their pain and suffering, show so much thoughtfulness to those around them? They didn’t have to do that. Everyone would have understood if they’d been grumpy or even exploded in anger. Time after time, these children would thank me for doing some little thing, and I’d have to restrain myself from saying, “Oh, that’s nothing. They pay me to do this.” Only after much thought did I realize what I had been seeing—something very special.

"Imagine for a moment that you’re a child with an illness that will soon take your life. You’re not wealthy, so you can’t think of all the charities your accumulated millions will fund. You’re not successful, with a long life of accomplishments behind you, nor are you famous, with millions of adoring fans eagerly awaiting news about you. You’re only a little kid who has just begun life and yet you’re dying. All you will accomplish in the rest of your life will take place over the next few weeks in a small circle around your bed and with the few who enter that circle.

"That’s what I was seeing with those remarkable children. They were giving meaning to their short lives by being kind to us. We were all they had, and by allowing them to be kind to us, their lives mattered."

Read the book and let their lives speak to you. You'll be glad you did.

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