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Thoughts of her come and go, at different times and for different reasons. Sometimes, it's because I have run across one of her letters that I keep in my memory drawer. Other times, she is brought to mind when I reminisce about patients who have meant much to me. Lately, it is because she has helped me maneuver through a road bump in the walk of life. And this is remarkable, considering she has been dead for twenty-three years.

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I was a nurse in my early twenties when I met Diane. She was a young patient, especially compared to the usual ones seen on our busy medical floor. It was the mid-seventies, and the county hospital where I worked had fourteen-bed wards, with only a few private rooms per floor. Most of the clientele were poor and without insurance. However, we were a teaching hospital and the care was top-notch, so it was not unusual to get referrals of difficult cases from outlying areas.


Diane was such a patient. Her advanced leukemia led to her referral to our well-known hematology-oncology service. In her mid-thirties and the mother of four young children, she was different from the older, chronically-ill patients we were used to seeing. From the start I knew Diane was a special patient.


Diane had a dreadful disease, yet she never complained. She was always cheerful, always kind. Her Bible and her strong faith were always evident, in spite of her poor health. Her husband and children were frequent visitors. It was obvious they cared deeply for her and would support her all along the rough path she was walking.


In those days, we did not have universal precautions, so we put Diane in a private room and followed reverse isolation procedures. We were protecting her from whatever we might be harboring, instead of protecting ourselves from her disease organisms. We didn't use paper gowns but heavy cotton ones that were uncomfortably warm. Many nurses didn't like to take isolation patients, but I didn't mind. So I was assigned as Diane's nurse during her frequent stays with us.


In school I had been taught how to have a professional relationship without becoming emotionally involved. Becoming attached to a patient was considered inappropriate. A good nurse must be kind, but distant. Caring, but not loving. But after a few days caring for Diane, I decided the rule was meant to be broken this time. Each day of caring for her endeared her to me more. How could I help it? Here was a woman with a deadly disease who never whined and always relied on her Lord for strength.


In caring for her disease, we caused her much misery. I know it wasn't easy, yet through it all, I never heard her utter a cross word. Instead, Diane spent much of our time together getting to know me. We became friends and, unknowingly, she became my mentor-not a nurse mentor, but a life mentor. She was a shining example of how one should respond to life's burdens. She was an example of a loving wife and mother, even during her illness, and a model patient. I cared so much about her that we started writing when she wasn't in the hospital.


I cared for Diane over a period of two years. During that time, I became pregnant with my second child. Diane would offer me bits of parenting advice, and she was as excited for this new child as if we were close relatives. She spent some time in the hospital during the final months of my pregnancy and gave me a gift: a beautiful ceramic nightlight that had been used for her children. I was surprised to receive it and thought she should save it for her grandchildren, but she insisted that I take it. Perhaps she wanted to see someone enjoy it because she knew she would not live to see grandchildren. She made me promise to write and send her a picture of the baby. Several weeks after Diane left the hospital, my daughter was born, and I soon sent her the promised picture.


Six months later, in January 1978, I returned to work. On my first day back, about ten minutes before I was to leave, the emergency room nurse called to say Diane had come in and it didn't look good. But I was young and foolish and put my needs first. I was tired. I missed my baby. I wanted to go home. I told myself I would see Diane the next day. But Diane didn't live to see the next day, and I, in my selfishness, didn't say goodbye. I still weep at the thought of that missed opportunity.


Three months later I received a call from Diane's husband. He told me how much I had meant to Diane and how happy she had been to receive the picture of my daughter. I can't remember much more of that phone call except that he and I both wept copiously.


Fast forward to a new century. Many things have changed. My baby daughter is now a grown woman. I am no longer directly involved in patient care. The county hospital where I worked for so many years no longer exists. The treatment for leukemia has changed. And now, it has become my turn. I have been diagnosed with breast cancer and must undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. How will I ever do it?


Interestingly, I have been referred to a radiation oncologist whom I knew in my years at the county hospital. He also had cared for Diane. We discussed her when we first met to determine my care. At that point I knew I could do it. Diane was going to help me. It doesn't matter that she is not in this life. What matters are the memories of her faith, love, cheerfulness and hope. In my worst days of chemotherapy, I thought about Diane. I remembered her positive attitude and her Bible-reading. It inspired me to be positive and to turn to God's Word to find the support that she found there. One day I had a vision of Jesus holding a lamb, and that lamb was me!! What comfort and joy in that thought!! I would think of Diane when I was praying, and I would thank God for putting her in my life when I was young and impressionable.


God uses people in different ways. God brought Diane into my life to show me a God-pleasing way to handle a major life hurdle. Yes, Diane died from her disease, and I may too. It is now a year since I completed treatment, and I am fully recovered. But who knows if I will have a recurrence or metastases? Only God knows. But I know that if I succumb, I have a special friend waiting to greet me in heaven. In the meantime, I must set a good example. Who knows how many people I might influence while walking this challenging path?