As a nurse at LDS Hospital, Nancy Walker sees a lot of cancer patients.
But, when her own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1988, Walker moved from being a member of the support staff to being a victim."Cancer does emotionally and spiritually to friends and family what it does to the cancer patient physically. It erodes and eats away at them," Walker said.
Walker works mostly with patients suffering from gynecological cancers and cancers in the bowels. She has lived in Salt Lake City, about 2,000 miles away from her mother, since June 1990.
After chemotherapy, the doctors in Michigan thought her mother's cancer was in remission. But in November, the cancer recurred and hasn't responded to treatment.
Her mother's diagnosis changed Walker's life. It also changed the way she works with other cancer patients.
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 8,000 Utahns live with cancer and that 3,900 new cases will be diagnosed in Utah this year alone. Over that same period of time, 1,107,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States and Puerto Rico. Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer.
What the numbers don't show are the other victims of cancer, the families and hospital staffs who experience cancer along with the patients themselves.
"I like taking care of terminal patients. I figure what goes around comes around. If I take really good care of the patients here, then hopefully someone will be taking extra good care of my mother. Sometimes it's difficult for me to have as much patience for people whose diagnosis is quite positive and they complain about having this happen to them," she said.
Not all of Walker's patients hear about her situation. Most of the time families just need to talk to someone who will listen and understand. Input doesn't always help. But families who do not deal with their grief and try to ignore the cancer often have a harder time adjusting to treatments and death.
"Something that I've noticed is that people who don't come to grips with what is going on feel the most guilty. Guilt comes before the death and the disease. A lot of families deal with cancer by not dealing with it. It doesn't help. Hopefully there will be families who can rise above their grief and reach a middle ground between the two sides," she said.
When Walker found out that her mother was on her third kind of chemotherapy, she decided it was time to go home for a visit. She hadn't gone sooner because "I can't give her any better care than she is already getting."
She hesitates to say that her mother's cancer is terminal.
"There is always hope. We don't use the word terminal because miracles do happen," she said. "It looks really bad. The chances are that she won't live, but who knows? Once the emotional hope is gone you might as well not do anything."
"Even though this is the worst kind of situation, good things can come about. My own family is closer now. We don't waste time on stupid things," Walker said.
Once, when she was visiting her mother, Walker complained that she was overweight and wasn't as pretty as other people. Her mother just looked at her and said, "At least your body works."
"I think about that a lot now. Every time I complain about what I look like, at least my body works," she said.