I rarely cry on the job. I try not to out of pure professionalism, but can certainly count the number of times I’ve cried on one hand. This past week, I cried the most I’ve cried since being a nurse.
She’s a young cancer patient with a slow-growing tumor. Nonetheless, it stopped responding to treatment. Her nausea persisted and grew worse to the point where she required TPN (total parenteral nutrition, nutrition you receive intravenously). Nothing controlled the nausea, and then came the pain. Luckily she was admitted to the hospital and her medical team found ways to control her pain. But here she was in clinic again, nauseous beyond belief, wondering if there was anything out there that could possibly alleviate that awful sensation of not being able to stomach even a sip of Gatorade. Pair that with anxiety of the unknown, and you have the perfect recipe for malnutrition, restlessness, and stress.
The second she met with her provider, she needed to know the truth: “I need to know if I’m dying or not.”
“Well, honey, what do you think?”
“I think I am.”
“. . Yes. I’m afraid so.”
“I’m afraid to die. Will it hurt?” she asked, her voice faltering.
Words don’t do this moment justice. While she was relaying her fears, a small group of supporters surrounded her and held her hand, gave moments of silence, spoke in soft voices, and allowed time for her to cry and digest what little she could possibly digest in that moment. What will never leave my mind, for as long as I live, and assuming I don’t develop dementia, are two phrases:
Her practitioner asked, “What do you want to do that would be fun for you right now?”
“I want to take a trip.”
“I’m glad I ate that fried chicken when I could. It was so good.”
I nearly broke out into tears (up until this point is was just a balance of keeping the film of water against my eyeballs and not blinking so they wouldn’t fall down my cheek) and had to leave the room.
Being a young adult is ruff. Let me tell you. When I was young, I wanted nothing more than to grow up. I wanted my own apartment; I wanted to pay my own bills; I wanted to be independent mentally, financially, physically. I remember working a four hour shift at Hollister folding the same shirt over and over thinking “How am I ever going to handle a real job if I can’t even stand folding a shirt for minimum wage?” Fast forward years later. I have a job. I’m paying off my loans. I live in a cute one bedroom apartment with a man I love, in a city I love (mostly, minus the traffic and parking tickets). I buy my own clothes, and spend a hell of a lot more money on good food and fun travel. But it isn’t easy. People think I travel a lot when the reality is, I don’t. I work extra and try to pocket some money aside until my funds are good enough to allow for a carefully planned trip. Balancing my finances has easily been the biggest challenge of my young adult life, and rightfully so. Between paying for school loans, having to take out more for graduate school, and still trying to do the things I love on top of taking care of the essentials, it never feels like I am doing enough. It never feels good enough.
Which is why this moment validated all of my thoughts and beliefs on the idea of a successful life. A happy life.
While it might work for some people to deprive themselves of the “finer” things to pay off their loans and enjoy life later, which, honestly might be the smartest thing to do, this method does not work for me. I repeat, this method does not work for me.
I’ve taken care of people my age and younger, and know by now that tomorrow is never promised. You could die today, or tomorrow, or the next day, and you don’t need cancer to tell you that. I think the difference between a person with cancer and a person without cancer is that a person living with cancer is more conscientious of their time spent because some sense of a deadline constantly hovers in their subconscious. I could be wrong, because I don’t have cancer. I can’t sympathize with that. But this is what I’ve observed.
So if I were to die tomorrow, what would allow me to die the happiest? Would it be paying off my loans and becoming financially stable? Or would it be taking risks, throwing myself into the unknown, and meanwhile enjoying the time I have with the people who mean most to me, even if means I’m a little bit more broke? Or, rather, a lot more broke? It’s a delicate balance, and one I don’t have down yet. But I choose the latter.
I choose the trip and the fried chicken.
I’m reading a great book called Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two professors at Stanford University. In the book, they delineate a successful life versus a happy life. I now realize the two may not be the same. Everyone has a different path. Whenever I beat myself up about not feeling “successful” enough, I pause and remember that if I weren’t me, who would be me? Who would carve this path out to show others? I guess what I’m saying is . . it might not be the right way. But it’s the right way for you. So do what makes you . . happy.
Being part of this powerful moment made me understand that there are greater things in life than money, and doing what you think is the best or right thing to do. The best and right thing to do is whatworks for you.
Thank you to the person who helped me put all of this into perspective. I wish for the best for you, and you will never understand how much your honesty, fearlessness, and vulnerability helped someone struggling to find their way in this crazy maze of being in her twenties.