Often, when I mention that I am an oncology nurse, people immediately get a confused, sympathetic look on their face. They usually reply with something along the lines of, “Wow, that must be hard.” Well, yes, it is hard—very hard—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many people can’t understand why someone would want to work in this field (just as I can’t understand why some work in the NICU or pediatric oncology). I don’t know how many times I have cared for and bonded with patients and their families, only to see them lose their battle with cancer. I feel like I lose a little piece of myself every time.

But I am an oncology nurse because I love the patients. My patients with cancer teach me so much about life, love, family, friendship, perseverance, gratitude, and even myself. They are the sweetest, most appreciative, and grateful people I meet. Their entire world has been rocked by a diagnosis of cancer, and somehow, they still seem to find the strength within themselves to fight—fight for life, family, friends, and themselves. They become so grateful for the little things in life, no matter how bad things get. They understand that material objects aren’t important. They understand that family and love are important. They understand that it’s important to see their daughter get married, their son graduate high school, or their granddaughter’s first Christmas.

In all of their pain (physical, mental, and emotional), nausea, sickness, fatigue, fear, and loss—if I am able to make just a tiny difference in my patients’ day, then I have done my job. Being an oncology nurse also helps me to keep things in perspective within my own life. No matter how hard or bad I think my day is, it’s never as bad as my patients’. My job reminds me every day how important it is to be grateful for the little things—being able to walk, go to work, spend time with my family, breathe, etc. Why oncology? Because it’s where I belong.