Through a nurse’s eyes: When a patient becomes a friend

What were you doing in your early 20s? Maybe you had just graduated college and started a brand new job with an excitement for where life was going to take you. In your 30s, did you have a young family or find the love of your life?

Imagine how things change when you get diagnosed with cancer in the prime of your life. Every year about 70,000 young people between ages 15-39 receive a cancer diagnosis that becomes a reality and rocks their whole world.

JD Soria was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor in 2016. At the time, he was 28 years old and working at TCU. When I first met JD, I had been the nurse navigator for the Fort Worth Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology coalition at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth for only two months.

It’s hard to explain what a nurse navigator can do for you when you’re still learning what that is for yourself. When I gave JD my poorly understood definition of how I could potentially help him, we both chuckled, and then I sat down next to his bed and we talked for an hour. It was the first of many enjoyable visits and conversations we would have over the next three years.

Young adult cancer patients have unique needs when compared to those diagnosed in the pediatric or elderly age group — they’re the in-betweeners. Our Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) unit is a cancer treatment home designed with patients like JD in mind, giving them a space to not just receive expert care but also relax, find community and cope with the life changes that cancer brings.

Since diagnosis, JD has become a well-loved patient on the AYA unit due to frequent admissions to help manage his symptoms. In the process of getting to know him, we’ve heard about his love of music, history and his precious dog Sahara.

Over the years, he has made us laugh and smile with his unique sense of humor and dry sarcasm while teaching us things that we did not know before — did you know that Tool’s song Mantra actually features a band member’s cat being gently squeezed?

Related: 7 reasons why I love being a nurse

When JD got word in October of this year that he was going to be given an honorary graduation diploma from TCU, he was elated! This was something he had been working toward for quite some time. He invited the friends he never expected to have (his nurses) to come see him walk across the stage. It was going to be a proud, long-awaited day.

Unfortunately, JD’s health declined, and his family was worried he would be too weak to walk across the stage at the end of December. During an admission in the middle of November, I prompted his mother with the question, “Do we need to make this happen sooner?”

After a couple of days processing the situation and talking to JD when she could, his mom gave the go ahead to initiate the plans.

I knew how much this meant to JD; therefore, it meant a lot to me as well.

In true Fort Worth collaborative fashion, I reached out to a contact at TCU who went above and beyond to ensure JD would have his graduation day. 

The celebration took place at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth in the corporate boardroom on November 20th. The ceremony mirrored an actual TCU graduation ceremony, complete with TCU faculty who led the commencement and formalized the proceedings with an invocation, remarks, a benediction and singing of the TCU alma mater.

More than 30 friends, family members and staff witnessed the event and were able to congratulate him on his accomplishment at a short reception.

I finally met and talked to some of the people who had been frequent characters in JD’s stories. I had never seen JD look so proud in the three years I had known him. He and his family are very grateful for the memories they were able to create that day, and JD is proud to be known as a college graduate.

JD will always be a lot of things. He will always be one of my first patients. He will always be the patient who taught me how to be a nurse navigator and how to help others like him. He will always be my friend.

With nurse navigators by your side, you never fight cancer alone. Find cancer support near you.

About the author

Elena Wright, BSN, RN
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Elena Wright, BSN, RN, is a nurse navigator for the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) unit at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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Through a nurse’s eyes: When a patient becomes a friend