Understanding the Impact of Faith Community Nurses

More than statistics, it is the stories that help us understand the impact of Faith Community Nurses, and help us appreciate how much they enrich our lives. We share these stories with you.

Living with Stage 4 Cancer

Living with Stage 4 Cancer

Dee Huanca, RN, BSN, MS, FCN

Early in my career, while a partner in a mental health practice, the two of us devised a model entitled “The Survival/Living Concept”.  Now, nearly 40 years later, I arrived at the point of choosing survival or truly living for my remaining time on this earth.  I chose living; let me explain:

It was the beginning of September, 2009, and, after many tests, biopsies, and surgery, I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer.  I was told I could live up to 2 years without treatment; however, appropriate treatment could extend this time.  My mind flashed back to when my sister was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and given 3 months to live.  Now, five years later, with prayer and treatment, she did well.  I, too, chose treatment.

Chemotherapy is not easy with its many side effects:  nausea, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and weakness, along with blood clots and infections that necessitated more hospitalizations and surgery.

I have never been a quitter, but was always considered an achiever.  I am the oldest of my family, a nurse, an educator, and a leader in my church.  Now all these activities were curtailed.  When in the hospital for my first surgery, my pastor, while visiting me, said “We just want you to BE with us.”  Of course, I was familiar with this concept:  to be and not be able to do, however, would be difficult.  Having “permission” to BE helped me to live my life even though it was not life as I preferred, because I did not know what was ahead of me.  I had given my life and career to God years before, but now I had to give my body to Him and let Him take full control of everything.

Years earlier, when my partner and I defined survival for our model, we described it as having met a state of desiring to have the needs of acceptance, approval and affection from self, others and God.  However, if previous experiences have not met these needs we may become fearful, angry and depressed.  Living was described as having the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, and goodness that come from having one’s needs met.  After realizing I was not in control, I was able to grasp the fact that God wanted only my trust and desire to be more like Him.  This meant I needed to spend more time with Him; time I now had because I no longer had the strength that would normally be spent on other activities.

I had always been self-sufficient, so it was humbling to ask for help to be driven to appointments, and even to do normal household activities.  My partner in parish nursing understood this and provided me with a book When God and Cancer Meet, by Lynn Eib. (I now had time to read).  This book encouraged me to learn to accept help and give back whenever I could.  I handled this by keeping a ‘help directory’.  When someone offered to help I wrote down the name and promised to call.  When I did call, I offered them an ‘opportunity’ to help me.  I discovered that friends and relatives appreciated having time with me and I appreciated becoming better acquainted with them.  I discovered that being vulnerable provided the opportunity to develop these friendships, to show God’s love and to experience being loved for who I am and not for what I do.

I still found it important to do as many of my normal activities as I could, especially to fulfill my role as a parish nurse.  Although I was not able to visit those in our congregation who were homebound or hospitalized, I was able to make phone calls.  Now it became a situation of mutual support as they shared scripture and prayed with me as I did with them.  I was now a member of “the club.”  Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, I had committed to teaching a parish nursing (Faith Community Nursing) course.

How could I do that now?  Can you imagine my surprise when the other lead faculty member, our director, adjunct faculty and volunteers offered to do the planning in my home and a nearby student offered to drive me to class each of the 12 evenings we would be meeting?  It was going to be possible to fulfill my commitment; God had again answered my prayer!

James writes “ask the elders to pray for healing.”  Even though my diagnosis was grave, I wanted the elders to pray for my healing.  This was a very special time to again realize that God has ‘plans for good and not for evil’ (Jeremiah 29: ll) for me.  I desired to live the rest of my life and not to merely survive.  They and many others have prayed and continue to pray for me.  Currently I am on a “chemo holiday.”  I have been told that I will never be free of the cancer and to consider it a chronic illness.  This means I can live with it but will probably be on and off of chemo therapy.  I am doing well off of chemo at this time.

As God showed me how my relationship to Him was significant, I found that I could even more effectively encourage others as they faced life’s problems or would one day face problems.  I definitely know I was and am not alone.  The more comfortable I was with the fact that my life may be shortened and that I planned to live it out, the more comfortable my family and friends were being with me.

Isn’t it interesting that as we realize our mortality we can live fully and meaningfully?  Christ gave us the commands to “. . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength . . . and your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).  I can learn to do this.  Learning to do this requires that I deal with the business at hand every day, especially relationships.  There can be conflict, frustration, confusion as well as support and hope.  Each day we deal with issues but we are not alone.  As we trust God to meet our needs we are better able to love others and ourselves.

Steven Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People emphasizes beginning with the end in mind.  What is our end?  We will be with Him forever.  With Him, whether we live or die, we are in a win-win situation.

Healing from Trauma and Loss