The Cancer Bond

I called the oncology clinic last week to let my chemo nurse Cameron know I needed to change my monthly appointment. Someone else answered the phone. I figured she was just helping a patient and couldn’t come to the phone. However, when I inquired about her whereabouts, she told me she no longer worked there.

What? When did she leave? I just saw her a few weeks ago. It had to be a mistake. She wouldn’t have left without letting me know. We had such a good relationship, especially during this COVID-19 time. Early on, when most clinics closed and there was minimal staff, she would call me while I waited in the hospital parking lot to let me know when my medication was ready. This arrangement resulted in only a short time spent in the clinic. She also ran interference with my oncologist/hematologist to convince him that my monthly blood work was stable enough that I could change my frequency from every month to every quarter.

I was devastated to hear that she had moved. I felt a bit empty like I had just lost my best friend. Okay... I may be a little overdramatic, I mean, I didn't even know her last name. However, it occurred to me how important the cancer patient-provider relationship is.

Patient-provider relationships

This relationship has likely become more critical because of a chronic, incurable condition like my blood cancer diagnosis, polycythemia vera (PV). I have been in a vulnerable place since I was diagnosed in 2016 with not only PV but an additional diagnosis of breast cancer a couple of months later. This has sparked a reliance on all my providers’ skills and knowledge. I think the bond is even stronger with cancer than with other ailments. You may see a provider frequently for years to maintain that continuity of care and therefore build confidence in their treatment.

As far as Cameron is concerned, I’m sure the COVID-19 situation added to my dependence, as she was one of the few people I physically saw outside of my family for many months. Not only did I rely on Cameron for my care, but we built a rapport by sharing snippets of our lives outside the chemo clinic, with stories of our kids and interests.

Provider turnover

I, fortunately, haven’t had much turnover in my providers since my dual cancer diagnosis. I still have the same oncologist/hematologist I had when I was first diagnosed. My breast cancer team hasn’t changed. I still have the same myeloproliferative neoplasm (the classification PV falls under) specialist. Most of the staff at the oncology clinic is also the same.

Prior to cancer, this wasn’t always the case. I was in the Army for twenty years, moving every three or four years. Because of this fluid situation, I rarely saw the same provider more than once. It was a little aggravating to have to go through your entire history every time you saw someone new.

I’m not sure why Cameron left and I likely will never know. However, I do know that this is one relationship I will never forget - this chemo bond.

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