"Just Be My Mom"

Prior to David being diagnosed with leukemia in the early part of December 1995, I was working part time as a diabetes nurse educator at Stamford Hospital. I was able to balance home life with work, I loved educating patients on how to deal with their diabetes and collaborating with colleagues. All that came to a screeching halt when David, who was 10 years old at the time, started having symptoms that his pediatrician couldn’t diagnose citing an insignificant childhood nuisance. Within the course of one week, David complained of hip pain, he then started limping and was soon crawling to get around because he was in too much pain to walk. It took several weeks before a bone marrow aspiration gave us the definitive diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia. I was in the pediatric oncologist’s office when I received the news. Joe, my husband, was on a business trip in California and I had the doctor call to give him the bad news. The doctor told Joe she was optimistic that David would achieve remission. Joe flew home that day. David was immediately admitted into Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital and started a two year protocol of chemotherapy. The nurse in me wanted to take charge. I asked questions, checked his IV lines and observed him. I started reading about leukemia and all that the diagnosis entailed. Emotionally, being a nurse kept me from falling apart and from feeling the sense of uncontrolled fear a cancer diagnose thrusts upon you. David was in too much discomfort to say anything about my ‘nursing’ approach to his care. The week he was in the hospital was an utter nightmare—everyone around you is trying to stay calm and trying their best to reassure you, but as a parent of an 10 year old, you see your once healthy child experience deep, agonizing pain and you can’t do anything except plead for the nurses and doctors to take it away. David was finally discharged home and we were then making daily visits to the oncologist’s office for treatment. The trip took an hour each way and David and I got to spend a great deal of time together and learned how we each coped with all the changes that were being thrown our way. We would come home from the doctor’s office late in the day, David was exhausted and complaining how tired he was. The nurse in me kept intervening. I asked him what I could do to make him feel better. Could I massage his back? Could I give him a bath? That was when my sweet boy gave me the best advice I needed to hear. He told me he just wanted us to be a family. He needed me to be his mom, not his nurse.