Growing up on a farm in Ontario, I learned incredible lessons at my mother's knee and felt family support at every stage of my development. This priceless resource has served me well. My mother had trained as a teacher and worked as such very briefly before her marriage. Later she became a stay-at-home Mum whose life revolved around her children. Four of us arrived in her first five years of marriage, and much later, two peri-menopausal after-thoughts, with me the ‘forever baby.’ There followed care to an ageing, demented mother-in-law and being special sister to Eleanor. My mother's whole being was about kindness and compassion to her family and her community.
By the time I was thinking about work, our mother already had two teachers and a secretary among her daughters, so I was the default nurse, the boys of course following Dad into farming. Her friend Mrs. Churchill, who had been a nurse, was a knowledgeable supporter of her persuasive encouragement!
I started in nursing as chief laundress at an Easter Seal Camp for handicapped children near Perth, Ontario. I spent the early 1980s in public health in London and Middlesex County. I worked next at War Memorial Children's Hospital (later Children's Hospital of Western Ontario), managing chronic disease in children with diabetes and cystic fibrosis. My nearly eighteen years in paediatrics in London provided me with a huge repository of experience and great respect for patient-centred, family-focused care delivery.
In 1994, I obtained further credentials, with a master of science in nursing. In 2001, I received certification as a nurse practitioner at the University of Western Ontario. The next year, I started in oncology at the London Regional Cancer Program as an advanced practice nurse in managing fatigue and anaemia – such common complaints for people with cancer. In my eight years there, I was privileged to develop a good rapport with the oncologists and other professionals.
In the summer of 2009, I started as a home-visiting nurse practitioner at the South West Community Care Access Centre, just weeks before I first met Jen and Rob. My patients now are primarily palliative clients, and I see them in their kitchens, living-rooms, and bedrooms. The protection of hospital walls is stripped away, and I need to rely on skills beyond the clinical. My first charge – a family with a dying mother in her eighties – asked me how long I had been in palliative care. I answered truthfully but mentioned my thirty years in nursing.
Cancer care is tough – it's a relentless disease. A lot of sad stories, a lot of loss; at the heart of it, however, people who, despite the psychic and physical pain, rise to another level. My mother's favourite biblical passage was I Corinthians 13, about love conquering everything – and to be witness to this in one's work is beyond understanding, the feelings are so profound.
My own life, with two remarkable young adult children, a home on the farm with all the accoutrements of nature (animal, mineral, and vegetable), and a husband who cares for animals, provides shelter and sustenance for me and meaning in my work.