After Losing My Husband to Cancer, Nursing Saved My Life
I always knew I was meant to help people, but it wasn’t until I met a very special person that I was able to recognize how I was supposed to achieve that goal.
As a new undergrad, fresh out of high school, I felt that the world was completely open to me. I could do anything I set my mind to – what I wanted to do was nursing.
Luckily, my university had a week immersion program for perspective nursing students to make sure that nursing was the correct fit. By the end of the week, all twenty students were sitting around a large oak table going on and on about how nursing was the career for them. When it got to be my turn to speak, all I could muster was an emphatic, “No way!” I could not fathom the thought that I would be responsible for another human life. I had just graduated high school, moved out on my own and was expected to take care of myself for the first time. I was in NO WAY ready for the huge responsibility that is nursing.
So, I pushed nursing to the back of my mind and moved on to other pursuits. Fast forward fours years later, I was a new graduate moving to Chicago and ready to take on the world. Life in Chicago was not easy, but it was new and exciting. I craved adventure. Adventure found me in many ways, but the best way by far was in the form of my amazing husband, James. It didn’t take long for James and I to find adventures of our own and for both of us to enjoy the city in new and exciting ways. Whether it was touring the different neighborhood festivals, taking in a White Sox game or simply sitting on the great lawn in Millennium Park, life was great and neither one of us wanted it to change.
Right before Thanksgiving 2011, we received a phone call that forever changed our lives. James, when he was sixteen, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). He underwent treatment with chemotherapy and by the time we met, he was five years into remission. Unfortunately for us, that Thanksgiving would not be a day of thanks, but a day of worry and dread.
After a routine clinic visit, James received the call that his cancer had returned. Together, we returned to the life that he thought he was done with. This new world of clinics and hospitals was completely foreign to me. To turn and run would have been all too easy and honestly, expected. But, James handled everything with such courage. Every time he would look at me with his big blue eyes, all I could feel was the enormous amount of love I had for him. He was my sun in a sky full of dark clouds.
So, I charged forward and did everything in my power to help James. I didn’t want him to feel like he was “the man with cancer,” yet again. At first, it was the small things – taking him to clinic visits, making sure we had food in the apartment that he had an appetite for, keeping the apartment clean and just trying to keep our lives as normal as possible. Making cancer something that was a part of our lives – but not the thing that defined it.
As time when on and treatment continued, James grew increasing sick. I decided to take time away from my day job and become his full time caregiver. This was not an easy decision to make, but it was killing me to be away from him. James would have to stay in the hospital for multiple days and he would never say it, but I could always see it in his eyes – he hated to see me leave.
Soon, I was learning how to clean and dress any wounds that he may acquire, how to hook him up to hydration when he was getting to dehydrated, mix medications together, keeping track of more pills than I had ever seen and how to give shots. This was a world that I had once envisioned for myself, but in a very different setting. It alarmed me at how comfortable I had become in such a short amount of time. I felt myself watching the nurses to see how they interacted with patients and how they performed certain tasks. The nursing staff quickly became more like friends than anything else. They were people that I could openly share my fears, share plans for our future and truly anything that was on my mind. They were the ones that were there during the hard nights, holding my hand and giving me words of encouragement.
The nursing staff was with James and me until the every end. At 8:52 a.m. on August 12, 2012, James took his final breath. After only two and a half years together, I had to tell the love of my life goodbye.
After James died, I was a wreck. I couldn’t eat or sleep. All I could do was sit and cry. Cry over not only losing the love of my life, but also losing my future – a future I desperately wanted. I felt like I was drowning and everyone around me was just watching me struggle as they continued on with their lives. Life for me continued in this fashion for about two years. Once I started to come out of the fog that was now my life, I couldn’t figure out what to do. What next? Surely, I couldn’t live in my mother’s basement for the rest of my life, curled up in blankets that were saturated with tissues and stained from tears.
It was at this time that I remembered nursing. I remembered taking care of James for all those months and not only loving the fact that I got to take care of him, but knowing that I wanted to do that for others as well. I vowed that I would give anything I had left to other families going through exactly what I had gone through – hopefully making James proud along the way.
I applied for the accelerated nursing program at Creighton University and within a year’s time, I was Sara Weging, BSN, RN. I started working in the Oncology Hematology Special Care Unit (OHSCU) at Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center. I could not ask for a more perfect job.
Being in the OHSCU is oddly comforting and feels a little like home. Not only being able to take care patients at the most vulnerable points in their lives, but being able to bond with the families. I love it when my experiences are able to be shared and help others that are in similar situations as I was. I truly believe the patients and families on OHSCU are a very special group of people. It’s a gift when I can tell them I know exactly how you feel. They are not alone.
There are still days when I feel very lost. When something funny is on TV, or a special song plays on the radio, I find myself turning to talk to James about it. Then there are days that I wake up and pray it was all a bad dream. When I realize it’s not, I feel like I have lost him all over again.
It has been really hard to live each day like I know James would want me to. He wouldn’t want me to cry over him. He would want me to go on living and he most definitely wouldn’t want me to give up on my dreams. Nursing is slowly bringing me back to life and helping me realize that it is okay to move forward. Life doesn’t stop moving just because I fell off the ride.
This story originally appeared on Nebraska Medicine.