Toni Steres, RN
When I started my second career as an RN in May 2009, I knew I didn’t have all the answers. But I believed I had a firm grasp of what the RN’s job entailed — both skill-wise and knowledge-wise. I just needed on-the-job training to become what I wanted to be.
What I didn’t realize was my greatest learning experience would be caring for a family member.
My grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2010 at age 81. He sent me an email to let me know he had gone to the ED and they had done a CT scan that showed a mass in his pancreas. He had been at my graduation from nursing school, and I knew I could help him.
In the weeks that followed, I accompanied him to all his appointments. I spent much of my time re-explaining terms and describing procedures he would have to endure. I communicated to all of my relatives about the status of the cancer and what we should expect in the coming months of chemotherapy and radiation. I had to ask the tough questions to which no one really wanted to know the answers.
I made every appointment, followed up on every medication, and made sure he and my grandmother knew everything they needed to know during this process.
After chemotherapy, radiation and a recovery period, my grandfather’s surgeon gave him the green light for possible resection of the cancer. Unfortunately, during the operation, they found the cancer had spread and resection was impossible. I stayed by his bedside after everyone had gone home after a long day. When he woke up, he asked me if they had done the surgery. I repeated what the physician told him earlier — that no, they had not been able to remove the cancer. I held his hand and cried with him, as I explained what happened.
Complications arose after surgery in the form of his second heart attack (the first was a silent one before the cancer diagnosis). He also endured fluid buildup in his lungs and a DVT.
My grandfather spent two nights in the care of ICU nurses and eventually left the hospital with more than 20 staples and a broken heart — both physically and emotionally.
Along the way, I watched the nurses who cared for my grandfather and saw how much they enjoyed helping him.
I witnessed the oncology nurses who joked with him and my grandmother, so they could laugh. I saw the floor nurses who listened as we explained his condition was not normal. They responded by having him sent to the ICU.
There were the ICU nurses who kept us updated on his condition, no matter what they were doing or what time we called. I interacted with a nurse practitioner who found the original heart attack and discussed his condition at length with me.
Each one of my fellow healthcare professionals taught me that just because a patient is not a family member by blood, it doesn’t mean the patient isn’t part of your family.
Through these experiences, I’ve changed the way I look at each one of my patients. I see them as family members I can help, even if just for a short time. I ask questions about their families, their support systems and who can help them out. I look at my job beyond giving medications and bandaging wounds. It’s also about making sure patients understand their conditions and where they can go for more information.
When the surgeon told my family there was nothing more he could do for my grandfather, he looked me in the eyes and told me I made my grandfather proud, that I had done a good job of helping him through this difficult time. That comment made me cry.
My grandfather died in June from pancreatic cancer. I was able to see him on his last day. We talked about current events, and I made sure he knew that I loved him. As much as I miss him on a daily basis, I am relieved he is no longer in pain. I will always care for my patients as if they are family because of him and because of all the wonderful healthcare professionals who surrounded him and did the same. He always encouraged me to do my best, and I will continue doing just that in his honor.
Looking back, I realize I had made my grandfather proud. I had become the nurse I always wanted to be — caring and compassionate to everyone in my care.