THE BLOG
11/04/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2015

Oncology Occupational Hazards

John Fedele via Getty Images

I've learned a lot about life and humanity from working as a nurse practitioner in pediatric oncology. Some of those lessons have undoubtedly made me a better person than who I was before I learned them. They shifted my perspective. They gave me insight I never would have had unless absolutely forced to find meaning.

Some of those lessons hardened my heart. What was once a soft, sensitive organ became fibrotic over time and exposure to misery. The scar tissue accumulated and formed stalactites. Faith suffered. Religion became ether. Or maybe that would've happened regardless of the career I chose and it's just convenient to blame it on this. Either way, it's destiny.

I learned that love propels you forward. When everything points in the direction of curling up in a ball and staying absolutely still -- it makes you get up at the crack of dawn, bleary eyed and scared -- and continue to walk forward. It forces you to think and make decisions when you want to lay down and stop the world from rotating. Its a gravitational pull like no other. When your bones are tired and your heart is broken and your mind is shutting down -- it makes you stand up and wash your face and do what needs to be done. Because you love so deeply. Love is boundless energy and power. Just when you think there's not one more thing these parents can do, they surprise you and do it. Because they love so fiercely.

I learned that choice is paramount and it's dignity. Whether it's choosing the 11th line of treatment for incurable cancer and all of its horrific side effects or choosing to die comfortably. There's tremendous power in choice. I learned that supporting a choice different from our own is hard. Really, really hard. But it's crucial.

I learned that our control is an illusion. We have a terrifyingly tiny bit of control over what happens to us here on earth. And that is so annoying because if only we could write the ending -- it would all be OK. But we can't. Ever. And that is not cool at all. I would like to formally file a complaint about that so consider this official.

I learned that life is short. Sometimes so short it's absurd. Like what-the-f*ck-was-that short. Like a sneeze and a blink short. Like one day here, the next not short. I would also like to formally file a complaint about that.

I learned that we are incredibly resilient creatures. I have seen kids and adults recover. Again and again. They morph into the new "them." New people shaped by life and all the crap that came with it. Sometimes, they need to learn how to walk again as the new "them." Limping slightly, hunched over, battle weary. One foot in front of the other. Slowly at first, picking up momentum eventually. They, too, propel forward- despite boulder sized roadblocks. Watching them move forward is what keeps me somewhat sane. It keeps me from getting lost in the swamp of negativity and muck.
It is the best teacher.

I learned that in addition to being a total conversation stopper and major buzz kill -- pediatric oncology has been a bible, an honor, a thief, a curriculum of life.