Occasionally, I meet a person and she asks what I do, and I say, “I am a nurse,” and surprisingly, she answers, “I used to be a nurse.” I am always struck by this response because, how do you stop being a nurse? I have been a nurse for 57 years, licensed and working in the profession every day. This past June, I formally retired from my full-time position as the Florence Wald Professor of Nursing at Yale University School of Nursing. It has now been 4 months, and I do not see myself any differently. I am fortunate because I am continuing to work part-time at about 30% on my research grants and at the hospital working with the advance practice providers on their projects. This percentage of time allows me to read the newspaper in the morning, have a second cup of tea, and take a longer walk with my dog before getting ready for the day.
I start my work day at 10 or 11 am instead of 8 am and I am home by 4 pm instead of 6 pm. I am also not locked into a tight timeframe of meetings every day but rather have the luxury of finishing a conversation with a colleague about something we have been discussing. I keep a schedule of going into work 2 or 3 days a week because it organizes my time to do more of the things I want to do rather than what I must do. I am fortunate to meet weekly with my research staff to review data and write publications. In this time of high technology, we still meet face-to-face. I still meet, when asked, with students, faculty, and research colleagues because those meetings are the most inspiring because of the exchange of ideas to discuss projects or papers they are working on. I love connecting people with like interests and it gives me an opportunity to share my experiences if I think they are helpful in making a point to help the person and the person is willing to listen.
On the days I do not go into work, I go to the library or try to have lunch with someone I have not seen for a while and catch up on our lives. My evenings are spent reading or watching a baseball game. I read books I have checked on the New York Times best sellers’ list and have joined a book club to discuss novels that I now have time to read or listen to on tape. I sign up for bus tours to places like the New York Botanical Gardens and World Trade Center. I hope to go to Niagara Falls next.
My cancer treatment is also a big part of my retirement. Treatment for my stage 4 cancer initially consisted of a National Cancer Institute Phase 1 trial for 15 months, where I came to the clinic every Thursday for blood draws, vital signs, weight check, and an infusion. My treatment currently consists of daily oral chemotherapy. It makes such a difference in the amount of time I spend at the clinic to come once a month rather than weekly. At first, it was a relief not to drag myself into my appointments weekly, get my blood drawn, and be examined. I dreaded getting on the scale to see if I lost any more weight and then have the conversation of how to put extra calories and protein into my diet. But after 3 weeks of not going, I worried whether I was being monitored enough. Now, after several months on the new therapy and realizing my side effects are minimal and the drug seems to be working, I am relieved to have the time. It is like I am on retirement from my therapy too. My weight seems to be stable over the last 6 months, so I can buy clothes and be able to wear them through the season before the next one. My closet is filled with sizes from 12 to 2. My sister jokes with me that she will be happy to give me a fat transplant.
The biggest difference in my life since retirement is the birth of my new granddaughter, Wren. This is my first grandchild and is such a gift for this phase in my life. My daughter, Amanda, is 37 and adopted from Brazil. I waited until I was 41 and tenured before she was adopted. For those of you who are tenured, you know the sacrifices we all must make and that our family members are often neglected during that time as a result. I knew for me that my focus had to be initially on my career, so I waited.
There is no greater feeling in the world than holding that baby in your arms and her grasping her fingers around yours. I cannot get enough of her, her smell, her softness, and her sounds. There is no question that she is the best medicine I could ever be prescribed and she is slowly taking over my retirement schedule as I want to be more and more with her. But even though I am a grandmother and she has taken over my heart, I am a cancer nurse and will always be a cancer nurse.