During a C-SPAN panel discussion in 1997, journalist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) said, “Everyone has a book inside them.” As an aspiring author, I was fortunate that I never knew he also said, “in most cases, that’s exactly where it should remain.”
Before publishing my book, When Death Comes Knocking for Your Patients, if I had known Hitchens’ full opinion, I might have kept my stories and my words of wisdom for nurses and other palliative caregivers locked away inside me for eternity. As an oncology nurse of over 30 years, I had enough doubts about my ability to write a book without adding Hitchens’ so-called words of wisdom to my own internal dialogue, which tried to convince me I was “not good enough” and “No one will be interested in what I have to say.”
Fortunately, my experience of writing and publishing a book has shown me that my words can make a difference. I am an expert in my own experiences as an oncology nurse and palliative caregiver, helping individuals and their families deal with end of life diagnoses. The positive feedback I have gotten from readers has had me realize that my book has already made a difference and will continue to do so in several ways.
First, since publishing my book in September 2017, one of the largest schools of nursing in Arizona, Pima Medical Institute, has ordered 50 copies for their senior nursing students. This means that When Death Comes Knocking for Your Patient: A Guide for Nurses and Palliative Caregivers will become a valuable resource for these future nurses as they commit to quality patient care. My book also has the potential to be adopted as part of other national and international nursing curriculums. This unexpected outcome would never have happened if I had not had the courage to write and publish my book.
Second, I’m leaving a legacy of my life’s work, especially for other caregivers. When I began writing, I thought I had wanted to make a difference for those who were dying. Then I realized I didn’t know what it was like being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I have never faced cancer myself. However, I can empower cancer patients’ journey by empowering those who take care of them at their bedside.
Third, I’ve learned I am a good writer, and I didn’t know that before publishing my book. Hundreds of people (strangers, friends, family, and colleagues) have reached out to tell me how much my writing has touched them and how moved they are by my book. I still can’t hear their praise enough to really get it. But now, as a semi-retired nurse, when I answer the question on applications, “What’s your occupation?” I write, “I am an author and a registered nurse working casually.”
Although Christopher Hitchens did not believe the books within many of us can make a difference given the opportunity to put our thoughts onto paper, I’m happy I did not listen to his advice. Becoming a published author has been the key to unlocking opportunities for me to speak, teach, and ensure new nurses have a resource to empower them under difficult situations and offer high quality care to cancer patients and their families.
At the end of my own life, I hope the person taking care of me will have read my book, or one like it, so that they can connect with me, ensuring my transition from this life to the next is powerful and dignified. In other words, I want someone just like me to take care of me. That very well could be because someone read my book.