Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Occupational Hazard

We all have them, right?  Some jobs are inherently dangerous (firefighting, police work, military) while some involve high stress (doctors, air traffic controllers, preschool teachers!).  Some hazards may include exposure to dangerous chemicals or challenging people.

My job is providing psychosocial care and support to people with cancer.  Death is my occupational hazard.  Of course, working with people with cancer doesn't put me at any greater risk of dying, but it does involve developing relationships with people who may die.

Some professionals handle this hazard by staying disconnected and may appear cold to the casual observer.  Some get way too close, burn themselves out and leave the job.  I choose to care for my patients, know them and develop relationships with them...with appropriate professional boundaries, of course.  It's not really a choice for me.  It is the only way I know how to do this work.  I think you have to care in order to find the joy that is inherent in this work as well as to be effective.  But balance is they key.    I have to find ways to deal with the stresses and losses inherent in my work.  I have to have a well-developed support system and a life outside of work.  I have been lucky to be able to find that balance and have stayed in this field for 17 years.

But some days are harder than others.

Yesterday I attended the burial mass for an incredible person whose life was taken by cancer.

I am not Catholic, but for some reason, certain portions of the mass are comforting to me.  The incense that the priest waves around the casket is a smell that calms me.  The music comforts me.  I also tend to have a lot of flashbacks to my deceased ex-husband, since he was also Catholic.  [More about that in later post]

I cried a lot yesterday.  The person who died was young and had so much life left to live.  She battled her cancer for 7 years.  I knew her for 5 of them.  Her sister gave her eulogy and gave it with strength and grace.  I was in awe of her and not sure if I could have done the same.   But she did what she had to do...and wanted to do.  And that is something I can understand.

At the end of the eulogy she stated that her sister lived a life with no regrets.  That really struck a chord with me.  Could I say the same about my life?  Mostly yes, but there is one thing.  And if I can identify it that quickly then I need to do something about it.

I know that making a change is something you do for yourself.  But I am hoping to draw strength from so many people who have faced much bigger battles.  Because I can make this change.  It is within my control.  Which is very different than cancer, which takes your control and throws it out the window.

I want to live a life with no regrets.  So it is time.


  1. Great post. I wish I could say that. I need to work on it for sure!

  2. There are small moments, times when I've said something stupid or thoughtless that I wish that I could take back, but as far as the big stuff goes, I can honestly say I don't regret it. I made decisions based on asking myself whether or not I would regret it later. I know I don't know everything about you, but when it comes to the big stuff that I do know, it seems you are living a life of no regrets.