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DiversityNursing Blog

How to talk to your child about cancer: Oakland nurse pens book after diagnosis

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Mon, Dec 02, 2013 @ 10:19 AM

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

After a routine mammogram in the fall of 2011, Laurie Thornberg learned she had breast cancer. Over the next nine months, as the Oakland woman endured surgery and roundslaurie of chemotherapy, she watched as friends and loved ones attempted to explain her condition to their children.

Some struggled. One person described Thornberg’s cancer to her children “like I had the plague,” she said. Others were more comfortable, including a close friend and neighbor Thornberg ran into while out for a walk.

“[She] told her children in a kind and gentle way,” Thornberg, a registered nurse, wrote in an email.

Thornberg chronicled the encounter with her neighbor in her new children’s book, “Julie’s Dream,” which she hopes families will use as a tool to talk with their children about cancer and its treatment, as well provide hope to cancer victims and their loved ones.

“Children, even young ones, can be very aware of their surroundings and have questions when they notice family members being upset, someone who is sick a lot, or even as simple as a person suddenly has no hair,” Thornberg said.

In the book, Thornberg’s neighbor explains to her children, “See our friend? She wears that bonnet to cover her head because she got sick and had to take a special medicine that made her hair fall out.”

One of the children turns to Thornberg, asking, “Why don’t you take off that bonnet? I’m sure you’re beautiful under there.”

The book goes on to detail the main character’s dream about magically being healed. Thornberg’s friend and the book’s illustrator, Juliana Muzeroll, had that very dream about her, Thornberg said.

“I liked this approach a lot because it gives the reader freedom to interpret the outcome to fit their own personal situation,” she said. “Meaning, that whether the loved one survives or passes away, there is always healing at the end of a cancer journey.”

juliesdreamThornberg remains in remission 18 months after her last round of chemotherapy. She now realizes that the disease freed her from stressing over the demands of a life as a full-time hospital nurse, mother, and daughter caring for her disabled mother, said Thornberg, who now works in home health care and said she’s able to focus on what’s really important in life.

“Getting cancer took me away from my excessive stress,” she said. “I often say ‘cancer healed my life.’”

“Julie’s Dream” is available in softcover or as an e-book on, and, by searching the title and author together.

Source: Bangor Daily News

Topics: book, nurse, children, cancer, treatment

‘Semi-Invisible’ Sources of Strength

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Wed, Jun 19, 2013 @ 02:08 PM

View Video Here

My mother was a nurse, the old-fashioned kind without a college degree, first in the class of 1935 at the Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. Her graduation was announced in The New York Times, and her name was listed in the commencement program — Estelle S. Murov, in gold letters on ivory vellum —as the valedictory speaker, to be followed by the Florence Nightingale Pledge, presentation of prizes and diplomas, benediction, recessional and a reception and dance at the Hotel Astor.

In the dozen years that followed (until my birth), she wore a blue flannel cape and a starcheddescribe the image white cap while presiding over the preemie nursery at Lenox Hill, long before the days of neonatal intensive care units. The glory years for nurses, my mother always told me, were during World War II, when most of the doctors were away and real responsibility replaced being a handmaiden.

With this as my background, I am hardly a disinterested reviewer of a new anthology of essays by 21 nurses. It is beautifully wrought, but more significantly a reminder that these “semi-invisible” people, as Lee Gutkind calls them in this new book, are now the “indispensable and anchoring element of our health care system.”

Today, there are 2.7 million registered nurses working in the United States, compared with 690,000 physicians and surgeons. That number is expected to grow to 3.5 million in the next half dozen years, Mr. Gutkind writes in his introduction, as members of the baby boom generation require hospitalization and home or hospice care.

After he had selected 21 essays from more than 200 submissions, Mr. Gutkind had personal experiences that drove home the very thing the nurses wrote about over and over. He spent several months at others’ hospital bedsides — his mother, 93; his son, 21; his uncle, 86; and a friend, 72 — and rarely saw a physician.

Though it is the doctors who are considered “deities,” he writes, it was the “irreplaceable” nurses who were a source of comfort and security during his family’s multiple trials. And yet by his own admission he took them for granted — “I cannot not tell you what any of the nurses looked like, what their names were, where they came from” — which is exactly the state of affairs my mother described 65 years ago.

She would have loved this book, and no passage more than the one in which Tilda Shalof, a nurse for 30 years and also a best-selling author, describes “the ongoing tension between the university-educated nurses like me and the old guard, the hospital-trained, diploma-prepared nurses.”

The latter, she argues, are preferable. “Maybe those veterans didn’t know much about research or nursing theories, but they sure know how to care for patients,” she writes. “They knew how to get the job done. I wanted to be like them — a nurse who could start IVs on anyone.”

Many of the nurses who have contributed to this anthology are also part-time writers or bloggers. I would have welcomed some information from Mr. Gutkind, the editor of a literary magazine and writer in residence at Arizona State University, about whether nurse/writers are common and if so why. Perhaps many of them write because they rarely talk about their work, as they point out in these essays, and are encouraged in training and by the medical hierarchy to be tentative, even submissive, in their communication with doctors.

Several of the essayists describe their duties as tedious but the implications as profound. Eddie Lueken, a nurse of 30 years who also has a master of fine arts in creative writing, described her student years, earning tuition money busing tables at a steakhouse where she had to wear a cowboy hat and went home smelling like A.1. sauce. She yearned for the adrenaline rush of paddling people back to life; instead, she wound up mastering bedmaking, denture care for the terminally ill and measuring the diameter of bed sores.

describe the imageHer first opportunity to give an injection involved morphine for a woman with metastatic breast cancer, her respiration already so low that the narcotic might kill her. For that reason, the night nurse had skipped the patient’s scheduled pain medication.

Now Ms. Lueken’s supervisor was leaving the decision to her: “Crossing her arms, she looked me in the eye” before asking, “ ‘Should you give a dying woman with advanced bone cancer her pain medication, or withhold it because she may stop breathing?’ ”

“I’ll give it,” Ms. Lueken said, mostly because it was more exciting than “turning patients like they were logs.” Her reward: “Good job” written in a neat hand on her daily clinical evaluation, and the news from the charge nurse the next morning that her patient “went quietly” just a few hours after she had left for the day.

Never in her essay does Ms. Lueken say that what she had done was good nursing. But another nurse, Thomas Schwarz, also a published writer, effectively does it for her. He chose, at 63, to switch from nursing in emergency rooms to working the quiet night shift of a home hospice nurse.

“Everyone I’ve ever known, loved, kissed, sat next to on a bus, watched on TV or hated in the third grade is going to die,” Mr. Schwarz wrote. “Everyone. And I am the midwife to the next life for some.”

Jane Gross, a former reporter for The New York Times, is the originator of The Times’s blog The New Old Age: Caring and Coping.

Source: The New York Times

Topics: book, essays, stories, healthcare, nurse

Nurses, Addicted to Helping People

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Fri, Nov 02, 2012 @ 02:46 PM


nurse, nursing, addictied 
When a book is heavy with glossy photographs, you seldom expect too much from its words. In “The American Nurse,” though, it’s the narrative that hits you in the solar plexus.

Take the comments of Jason Short, a hospice nurse in rural Kentucky. Mr. Short started out as an auto mechanic, then became a commercial trucker. “When the economy went under,” he says, “I thought it would be a good idea to get into health care.” But a purely pragmatic decision became a mission: Mr. Short found his calling among the desperately ill of Appalachia and will not be changing careers again.

“Once you get a taste for helping people, it’s kind of addictive,” he says, dodging the inspirational verbiage that often smothers the healing professions in favor of a single incontrovertible point.
describe the image

Some of the 75 nurses who tell their stories in this coffee-table book headed into the work with adolescent passion; others backed in reluctantly just to pay the bills. But all of them speak of their difficult, exhilarating job with the same surprised gratitude: “It’s a privilege and honor to do what I do,” says one. “I walk on sacred ground every day.”

They hail from a few dozen health care settings around the country, ranging from large academic institutions like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to tiny facilities like the Villa Loretto Nursing Home in Mount Calvary, Wis., home to 50 patients and a collection of goats, sheep and other animals on a therapeutic farm. Some nurses are administrators, some staff wards or emergency rooms, some visit patients at home. Many are deeply religious, a few are members of the military, and a handful of immigrants were doctors in their home countries.

All describe unique professional paths in short first-person essays culled from video interviews conducted by the photographer Carolyn Jones. Their faces beam out from the book in Ms. Jones’s black-and-white headshots, a few posing with a favorite patient or with their work tools — a medevac helicopter, a stack of prosthetic limbs or a couple of goats.

But even the best photographs are too static to capture people who never stop moving once they get to work. For a real idea of what goes on in their lives, you have to listen to them talk.

Here is Mary Helen Barletti, an intensive care nurse in the Bronx: “My whole life I’ve marched to a the beat of a different drummer. I used to have purple hair, which I’d blow-dry straight up. I wore tight jeans, high heels and — God forgive me — fur (now I am an animal rights activist). My patients loved it. They said I was like sunshine coming into their room.”

Says Judy Ramsay, a pediatric nurse in Chicago: “For twelve years I took care of children who would never get better. People ask how I could do it, but it was the most fulfilling job of my life. We couldn’t cure these kids, but we could give them a better hour or even a better minute of life. All we wanted to do was make their day a little brighter.”

Says Brad Henderson, a nursing student in Wyoming: “I decided to be a nurse because taking care of patients interested me. Once I started, nursing just grabbed me and made me grow up.”

Says Amanda Owen, a wound care nurse at Johns Hopkins: “My nickname here is ‘Pus Princess.’ I don’t talk about my work at cocktail parties.”

John Barbe, a hospice nurse in Florida, sums it up: “When I am out in the community and get asked what I do for a living, I say that I work at Tidewell Hospice, and there’s complete silence. You can hear the crickets chirping. It doesn’t matter because I love what I do; I can’t stay away from this place.”

The volume is not entirely about selfless service: It was underwritten by Fresenius-Kabi, a German health care corporation and leading supplier of intravenous drugs in the United States. Presumably, crass public relations motives lurk somewhere in the background. But that’s no real reason to be meanspirited about the result, a compelling advertisement for an honorable profession.

Young people with kind hearts and uncertain futures might just sit themselves down with the book, or wander through the Web site featuring its video interviews,, and see what happens.

Topics: help, book, diversity, nursing, hispanic nurse, hispanic, healthcare, nurse, nurses

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