What do you want to be when you grow up? How many times have you heard this question? How many times have you asked this question? As much as we would like to believe that we can choose our profession with all of the agonizing, dreaming, planning, and praying we do, I think often, as was the case with me, our professions seem to choose us instead.
After working several years as an elementary school teacher and then deciding to stay home to care for and teach my four young children, my life made a turn down a rocky, unknown road. I tend to be a rule follower, so when I turned 40, I called to make an appointment for my first mammogram. There was no fear with that appointment, rather pride in staying organized and checking off boxes on my to-do list. When I received the call to come back for a biopsy, my pride soon faded away to fear.
My journey through breast cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and follow-up oncology appointments became my identity as a 41-year-old woman. A big part of that identity was found in my “second home and family”—the hospital, cancer center, and healthcare workers I interacted with daily, weekly, and monthly for almost a year. As I learned of and tried to make sense of my diagnosis, I had close interactions and hugs from a nurse navigator. As I got prepped for surgery, I had interactions with a variety of nurses. As I sat in a recliner receiving chemotherapy, I was closely attended to by nurses. As I received daily radiation, I touched base with a radiation oncology nurse. As I rang the bell after completing my chemotherapy treatments, I was cheered on by nurses. During a time of trying to make sense of life and reconfigure my identity, the nursing profession chose me.
Working in a profession that has chosen you, as being an oncology nurse has chosen me after fighting cancer myself, is something that I now find pride in. I am proud to be a nurse. I am proud to be able to give back to a profession that cared for me. I am proud to help patients in a way that only another cancer survivor can help. It’s common for everyone to have days of feeling unfulfilled or discouraged at work. I try to remember on these days to let my pride in being a nurse shine through my smile, my care, my attention to detail, and my advocating for my patients. I try to simply be grateful that my profession chose me and continually uses me to care for others in the same way I received care.
Susan Miller Huyard is an oncology nurse at Augusta Health Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Fishersville, Virginia.