Newswise — As a nurse coordinator in City of Hope’s Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, Christine Magnus Moore, R.N., B.S.N., has cared for patients going through the most challenging circumstances one can imagine.
She’s seen them at their very worst, their most vulnerable, and yet she said there is always a kind of quiet dignity and bravery they somehow miraculously muster. Moore said she didn’t fully comprehend the courage of these cancer patients until she became one herself.
Moore’s personal journey with cancer began one morning in the shower getting ready for work (she was then an emergency room nurse). She found a golf-ball sized lump in her left groin area. When she got to work, she talked with a physician colleague and eventually went to her primary care doctor, who referred her to a surgeon for a consult. A biopsy was ordered.
Lying on a gurney in the recovery room following the procedure, she said she remembers her physician friend and colleague entering the room, this time in the role of treatment provider and caregiver.
“This was someone I had worked with in the recovery room, and suddenly he was my doctor,” Moore said. “He had this sad look on his face and I knew the news wasn’t good.”
Her diagnosis: Stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
'My Life Changed Forever'
“It was in that moment my life changed forever,” said Moore, who had decided to become a nurse in her youth after witnessing the compassionate care her father received following a horrific car accident. “As a nurse, I knew what was coming. And I was scared. And devastated.”
Over the course of seven months, Moore was given eight cycles of CHOP, a chemotherapy regimen used specifically for the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, along with rituximab. She described the time as “a roller coaster ride.”
The Grief of Cancer
During her fourth chemotherapy treatment, she’d had enough. She was being escorted by her nurse to a recliner in the chemo room when a full-on panic attack set in. “I became completely overwhelmed, panicky and I couldn’t help it,” she said.
“Some patients have an easier time of it than others, which I had seen myself,” she said. “I had a very hard time during chemo, in every way.” Moore would be treated and then be sick at home for four days, barely able to get up off the sofa or eat even dry toast. She eventually did lose her hair, and also her job as a nurse in the ER.
“An emergency room is the absolute worst place for germs and I had to rebuild my immune system and heal,” she explained. “I needed to be off longer than they could hold my position for. My coworkers could not have been more supportive, but I could not maintain a job there.” She continued on disability and began attending a support group, which she says was a lifesaver for her. She also found solace in her church, prayer, friends and family.
“I really learned a lot about the grief that’s involved with having cancer. And that grief is necessary so that you can accept your reality – and I was definitely in denial early on – and come through it.”
An Even Better Caregiver
Moore eventually did emerge from cancer and remains healthy today, coming up on 15 years of survivorship. She also came out the experience with a calling: to tell her story.
Moore wrote a memoir, “Both Sides of the Bedside,” about her journey through cancer, first as a nurse and then as a patient. Reliving her illness as an author was “haunting” for her, she admitted, but ultimately cathartic.
The book has been well received by consumers and professionals in the medical community. She has toured with the book, given a TEDx talk and published articles for the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center keeps copies of the book for patients and nurses. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.
In her role at City of Hope, Moore coordinates transplants and teaches the pre-transplant class for patients, most of whom have leukemia or lymphoma. She also created and co-leads a support group for young adults fighting cancer through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“When the cancer patients I’m talking to or caring for realize I am a cancer survivor, they look at me with different eyes, knowing that I lived through it,” Moore said. “Because it’s one thing to have people cheering you on; it’s another knowing they have walked in your shoes.”