I am a former pediatric oncology nurse and a current nurse scientist studying human flourishing and positive growth in AYAs with cancer, especially by using the power of storytelling and nurse-patient therapeutic relationships. Human flourishing can be defined as a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good, and my goal as a researcher is to find ways to promote human flourishing in AYAs with cancer. This research journey started from a conversation with one AYA about ten years ago.
Oncology nurses mostly meet their patients during the most intensive part of those patients’ lives, during their treatment. When their patients leave the hospital after their treatment, nurses believe and hope that those patients will now live happily ever after. At least, I thought so as a pediatric oncology nurse until I met a 19-year-old teenager who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and completed his treatment two years before I met him. I was interviewing him, and he told me that he had stayed at home during the past two years, without meeting anyone other than his family, because he was not prepared to face the stigma of his community that he had never expected. He even said that his life during his treatment was much happier than now, as he received so much support during the treatment, but now no one understands him, even his own family.
His story made me wonder whether we, health care providers, are providing the most optimal care to AYAs with cancer. While traditional care prioritizes survival and symptom elimination, are we providing enough opportunities to AYAs to let them develop the capacity to deal with lifelong challenges and move toward the future? What does it mean to truly live well, and is the health care we provide as healthcare providers really the best for such a good life? This interview experience left me with an important question that I would like to devote my life to answering.
At the same time, I found a little hope. Even though he was having a hard time, it was encouraging that he nevertheless responded to my interview invite –which took a lot of courage– because he wanted to change his life. He didn’t want to give up. In the course of sharing experiences over multiple interviews, he found his own solutions. Eventually he said he would start studying again, and went to college to major in Education. All I did was provide him with a safe place to tell his story and just listen, listen, and listen. Carefully. As I have witnessed the positive impact of talking to someone and having someone listen to their voice, I am trying to find answers to my question in narratives and storytelling.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that the impact of health care, clinical practice, and research is always mutually beneficial not only to patients and their families, but also to health care providers and researchers. The relationships between patients or research participants and health care providers or researchers are not unidirectional. We can always exchange something positive with each other. For example, my professional identity and the meaning of my life have grown and developed in relation to my patients and participants, and it is still growing and transforming. When my 17-year-old patient wrote me a letter with a beautiful drawing of my face, this one piece of paper completely changed my life as a nurse and made me want to be a better person, a better nurse, and a better researcher. Thus, I believe this mutually beneficial, therapeutic relationship between patients and health care providers could be another piece that we can use to promote human flourishing in AYAs with cancer.
As a nurse scientist, I will continue to answer my questions and find better ways to promote human flourishing in AYAs. In a recent interview, one participant told me, “Thank you for listening to our voices.” I want to take this opportunity to respond to their kind words.
Thank you for letting me find the meaning of my life.
By: Eunji Cho