I’ve been working a lot of hours at my new job…it’s been interesting. For me it is an entirely new nursing venue, nothing like what I’ve ever done before. My best friend wanted me to try it. I’m working at an in-patient locked psychiatric unit for kids ages 5-17. I’ve never done psychiatric OR pediatric nursing. This job will let me choose my hours, as I will hopefully be in two graduate programs simultaneously and often attend various conferences. I need the flexibility. They’ve told me they like and appreciate me there, but realize they are just a “pit stop” in my career, as they know my career goal is to work in oncology.

What intrigued me to work in psychiatric nursing was how much I know of how a cancer diagnosis disrupts our mind, our thinking, and our emotions. For me recovering from the extensive surgery (MOAS, Mother Of All Surgeries) and chemo was a breeze compared to living with the fear of recurrence, the sense of uncertainty, the anxiety, the depression sometimes.

Most of the kids I now take care of have had horrible lives. They grew up in homes where there was alcohol and drug abuse, very many have been sexually abused; they have been traumatized from a very young age. Most have also been physically and emotionally abused. Many suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) related to incidences in their lives. One teen I take care of was sold to child molesters at a young age for drug money for her parents. One lived with her grandmother because she had been removed from the home of her drug abusing mother, but was allowed to visit her mother. One of her mother’s friends raped her at age 7 when she was visiting.

All of the stories are sad. Many of the kids will never recover…if they make progress at our facility many will be discharged back to the dysfunctional homes they came from. Some go on to live their remaining lives in state psychiatric hospitals. They have been forever changed. It’s heartbreaking.

But it makes me think of how traumatic events in our lives forever changes how we think, how we feel, how we live and process information, even as adults. Many of my kids mistrust the future, as do we after a cancer diagnosis. Many kids suffer PTSD as a result of trauma in their lives…it is now being recognized that cancer patients do as well. Many have had their lives threatened, we have too. At least we have the benefit of having grown up in a hopefully healthy environment before diagnosis, so we have some resources we’ve developed over our lives to help us come to workable solutions. We are also for the most part adults and independent so can pursue resources to help ourselves, like counseling and antidepressants if we feel we need to.

But in the end, it’s made me so aware of how negative experiences affect us all in so many ways. We can still pull some positive things out of our cancer experience (though I continue to feel cancer is not a “gift”). My hope is that some of these kids can recover and make positive use out of their experiences…maybe one day help other abused kids as they will understand. Just like those of us who have been through the cancer experience support and understand each other. We need someone else who’s “been there and done that”.