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Sarah celebrated her 55th birthday while receiving home care for end-stage breast cancer. I was introduced to Sarah and her husband James when she needed daily total parental nutrition (TPN) infusions to sustain her life. I needed to teach James how to give the TPN and 2 intravenous antibiotics. Imagine my surprise when at my first home visit I was greeted not only by James, but also by 3 of Sarah's closest girlfriends. That was a long and tiring evening as each person attempted to master the technique of intravenous (IV) infusion. We tripped over one another as I attempted to teach to each person's individual learning style.


Early the next morning, I was back to begin the "disconnect" process. It took about 8 consecutive visits, but eventually each one learned to care for Sarah's technical needs. I learned a few things about the healing power of devotion, love, laughter, and friendship.

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Sarah had fought a valiant fight against the enemy-cancer. After receiving the diagnosis 5 years previously, she had tried different experimental drugs and alternative therapies. She had even traveled to Europe for treatment, but the cancer had returned with a vengeance. In my 6 months as Sarah's nurse, she showed me how to live life to the fullest. Sarah's indomitable spirit touched everyone around her.


In the 6 months that I was privileged to share in Sarah's life, my nursing skills were stretched beyond their limit. I spent many an hour, day, and even weeks outside my comfort zone. One hot July evening I received a call that James could not get the syringe off the end cap. It was so hot that the syringe just kept stretching the end cap. I headed over there that evening to change the end cap and to comfort them.


Often it was hard to watch Sarah as she experienced pain. She had 2 abdominal fistulas that created a need to improvise proper wound care. While driving from patient to patient, I found myself thinking of ways to provide wound care that would decrease or eliminate some of the problems associated with the fistulas. I learned to change the ostomy wafers as gently as possible. Also, my phlebotomy techniques improved as I worked hard to obtain the weekly blood samples from Sarah, trying to be as gentle as possible to avoid causing her any added pain.


James was a constant source of love and comfort to Sarah. He would create delicious meals, filling the house with such a wonderful fragrance. Sarah would inhale the aroma with such gratitude. She would taste, but could not swallow, these delicacies. Her enjoyment justified all his work. To witness the effect of his love upon her will to live is a memory I will never lose.


We shared movie reviews and stories of our families as we laughed, cried, and came to know one another's history. I felt as though I knew many of her friends and family through her descriptions and love of them. Sarah had a great mind, and she loved to write and paint. Although confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain, she still found the strength and the desire to enter one of her paintings in a local art show. It won for being the best watercolor. She won for being a woman who never, ever gave up.


Sarah's care was given over to hospice 4 days before she died at home, surrounded by family.