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When I met Nola Murray, I liked her right away. She is a vibrant person who loves life. We attend the same church, and I soon learned she was a Christian who serves her Lord with a willing spirit. As we became closer friends, I discovered she is an RN with a concern for people.

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When I learned that she works in the oncology outpatient chemotherapy unit at our local hospital, I had to know why someone who loved life as much as she did was working in a place where everyone was going to die. So, I asked her. In the process, I learned there's much more to cancer than death and much more to death than dying.


Nola sees the inner person-their souls. Where are they with God? She wanted to talk with the patients about God's love, but, at first, she didn't know how. She was shy. The first time she went with a doctor to inform a patient she had only two weeks to live, they delivered the news, then left the room.


As she walked down the hall, she grieved that they had left this woman alone with devastating news. She ran back to the room and told the woman she wanted her to know God loved her. From then on, Nola was bolder and now finds it easy to tell the patients about the love of the Lord.


I asked Nola if she found oncology nursing depressing. She replied, "Not at all. It's sad when you lose a patient, but when you have talked to them about God, telling them what he has in store for them when they accept him as Savior, and know they are well with the Lord, you aren't losing them. Besides, not all die. New treatments are being discovered daily. Cancer is not the death sentence it used to be.


"The people who come for treatment bond like a big family. They care about each other and are concerned about each other's well-being. For instance, if one doesn't show up for their treatment, another will call later to ask about them. We give hope to these people, thus giving ourselves hope."


Nola and her colleagues, Mary and Shelly, discovered their shared commitment to Christ through daily conversation as they worked together. Mary was the first to suggest that they form a circle to pray together. It is now part of their Monday morning routine.


They pray for the patients by name, and they pray for themselves that they will give the medication as properly and as painlessly as possible. They pray that the doctors will be strong and wise. Often, when a physician walks by as they are getting ready to pray, they invite the doctor to join them. Most are willing to do so. The hospital is aware of the nurses' spiritual input and supports it.


Of course, they pray for healing, but it doesn't always happen. They understand that in the big picture, God knows what is best. Nola said, "We accept God's will for our patients' lives, as well as for our own."


Nola, Mary and Shelly all chose to work in the oncology unit. Prior to transferring to this unit, each had to take a six-week course in how to administer the chemotherapy properly. Nola started as a floater, only working in the chemotherapy unit when they were short. She saw a need, and when a full-time position opened up in the unit, she applied.


Nola, Mary and Shelly shared their thoughts about oncology nursing with me.


Marcia Leaser (ML): How do you talk to people who know they are going to die?


Nola: You don't want to take away their hope.


ML: Are they afraid?


Mary: If they know God, it's much easier.


Nola: Few are afraid of dying, but they are not ready to go. They are sad that they may not see a grandson graduate or hold a new grandchild. They feel they have a lot to live for.


Shelly: Those who are alone are more frightened.


ML: Do you find it easy to pray with them?


Nola: Most of our patients have faith and believe in God. We always ask whether they mind if we pray with them. We pray for each other and support each other with prayer and hugs.


Mary: When I am ready to insert the IV, I say, "Let's pray together." And when it goes well, I whisper, "Thank you, Lord."


ML: What do you do if they are not receptive or are too big of an emotional challenge for you?


Nola: I often take their names before our church family and ask them to pray. I will slip Isaiah 41:13 into their hands: "For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you.'"


Shelly: We try to talk to each patient, but when we don't feel we are helping, we suggest they call a pastor or a priest and ask their church to pray for them.


Mary: When we know they do not know the Lord, Nola, Shelly and I pray for their souls to be healed.

Figure. Monday a.m. ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Monday a.m. prayer time: (from left) Mary, Shelly and Nola

ML: Are these patients angry?


Nola: Some. Sometimes they say, "Don't bother me with this Jesus stuff." One time, I hugged a woman and said, "God is here." She said, "I want to see him right now!!"


Mary: Yes, they are often angry if they have to wait for their treatments.


Shelly: Sometimes, they feel their pain is personal, and they are the only ones who have to face this.


ML: Is your care and encouragement always one-on-one?


Nola: We used to treat them privately, but we got too busy, so we started doing them together in the same room and found it was better for them. They didn't feel quite so alone.


Mary: That's right. Patients began talking to each other and could relate to one another's feelings. They seem to talk to each other more freely.


Shelly: They care about each other. If someone doesn't show up who is usually there, they ask about them.


ML: I imagine some patients are more difficult than others.


Mary: Some drain us emotionally. Then we pray for empathy for ourselves. We remember God has us here to do his work.


Nola: We say to ourselves, "God loves this person, no matter what."


ML: How do you detach from your patients' problems and live a normal life outside of work?


Nola: It's hard. I wake up in the middle of the night with a patient on my mind. One time, we called the sheriff and had him check on someone who was supposed to be there for a treatment. But if I know everyone is safe, then I can go home at night and be what I need to be for my family.


Mary: I call people at home sometimes to see how the treatment affected them. But I have to leave most of it at work.


Shelly: My kids keep me busy, and I can detach easier. But when I get a call, I have to give myself to my patients at that time.


Nola: We leave our telephone numbers so our patients or their families can call us at home. We get to know their families and become a part of their lives.


Shelly: It's hard to lose them then.


Nola: Sometimes people give us flowers from the funeral, and it's like having them with us a little longer. When I water that plant every day, I say, "Hello, Betty. How are you today?"


ML: How do you tell someone it's terminal?


Nola: Because you don't want to take away their hope, you tell them there are new treatments every day, and doctors are working hard to find something to save them.


Mary: Tears are a part of it. We grasp their hands and pray through our tears.


ML: What if you got cancer?


Nola: I'd be frightened. I'd want to fight it with everything I had. I'd pray that I could put into practice everything I've been telling my patients. But most of all, I'd know God would keep me here until I finished what he has for me to do.