“I’m so sorry – I didn’t get it”: oncology nurse pens apology to her patients after own cancer diagnosis

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Kayleigh Dray
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“You have cancer.”

During her work as an oncology nurse – a job she has held for almost her entire adult life - Lindsay Norris had heard those three little words countless times before. In fact, the 33-year-old thought she knew everything there was to know about going through a cancer diagnosis, and prided herself on her ability to connect with patients and help them to understand their illness.

Then, in September 2016, doctors informed her that she had stage III colorectal adenocarcinoma, and her own cancer journey began.

The mother-of-two, who lives in Kansas, USA, has now written a powerful open letter addressed to every cancer patient she has ever taken care of, issuing a heartfelt apology to each and every single one of them

“I’m sorry,” she writes. “I didn’t get it… I didn’t get what it felt like to actually hear the words.”

She continues: “I’ve been in on countless diagnoses conversations, and even had to give the news myself on plenty of occasions, but being the person the doctor is talking about is surreal.

“You were trying to listen to the details and pay attention, but really you just wanted to keep a straight face for as long as it took to maybe ask one appropriate question and get the heck out of there fast.”

Norris adds: “You probably went home and broke down under the weight of what you had just been told. You probably sat in silence and disbelief for hours until you had to go pretend everything was fine at work or wherever because you didn’t have any details yet and wanted to keep it private still.

“You probably didn’t even know where to start and your mind went straight to very dark places. That day was the worst. I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.”

Norris continues to explain how she “didn’t get how hard the waiting is”, or “how much you googled”, or “how awkward it was to tell other people the news”.

Most importantly of all, she “didn’t get how much you hung on to every word I said to you”.

Throughout the emotional letter, Norris touches upon all the difficulties of living with cancer – including the physical effects, such as the scars, hair loss, swelling, weight fluctuations, fatigue, or mood swings.

She also speaks about how cancer affects a patient’s mental wellbeing, highlighting the loneliness that so many sufferers feel, as well as the guilt, the anxiety, and the confusion.

Since her diagnosis, Norris – who shares a 3-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter with her husband – has continued to work in the oncology ward, where she can continue to interact with the people who inspire her the most; her patients.

“I love each and every one of you,” she writes. “Nothing brings me more joy than when I see you reach your goals and slowly put yourself back together.”

Norris is currently taking radiation and chemotherapy tablets on a daily basis.

After Christmas, she will find out what effect these drugs have had on her cancer – and, if it has been successful, will undergo a permanent colostomy, followed by four to six months of additional chemotherapy.

Speaking to People, she explained that she wrote the blog post because she wants her patients to know that she now understands everything they’ve been through.

“I finally knew it was actually felt like to be told you have to cancer,” she said. “I felt like I was more understanding of how it felt to go through the process.”

When asked about her own prognosis, Norris replied: “We’re just in the beginning stages, but we’re hoping for the best and for many years to come.”

In the meantime, she and her husband are working as hard as they can to make each day feel “as normal as possible” for their children – and, whilst at work, she is striving to ensure that she is far more sensitive to her patients’ needs, both emotional and physical.

You can read Lindsay Norris’ open letter in its entirety on her Here Comes The Sun blog.

Images: iStock, Here Comes The Sun