HEALTHY AND HAPPY: Darling, front row center, with
her Ellison 7 colleagues
How nice, was Amanda Darling’s initial reaction when she received the call from her surgeon. A personal call.
Darling now laughs at the recollection. “That’s actually what I thought,” she says. The registered nurse on Ellison 7 recalls how – after working the night shift in May 2013 – she awoke to a voicemail requesting she return the call regarding the results of a core biopsy on a suspicious lump in her breast. “But the doctor said, ‘Amanda, I have your results and it’s not good. You have breast cancer.’ ”
She was 27 years old.
It had already been a whirlwind of a year. Darling had just started at the MGH on the Surgical Trauma Unit in January – just days later, her mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. “It was a difficult time, but everyone on the unit was just so nice. They didn’t even know me, but they were so supportive and worked with me so I could have a flexible schedule to go with my mom during her treatments,” Darling says. “And then a few months later, I had to tell them I had cancer.”
CREATIVE CONCOCTIONS: Darling with her homemade cupcakes
The ensuing seven months were marked by a medical leave filled with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation to treat the invasive ductal carcinoma. But, Darling says, her days also were full of an enormous amount of support, generosity and kindness from her colleagues who showered her with cards, calls and prayers. Darling also found a welcome distraction before and after hospital visits in baking cupcakes. “Baking was really a blessing,” she says. “It kept me busy, which was perfect. Every time I had treatment, I brought a batch with me to share with staff and patients. I was known as the ‘cupcake girl.’ ”
When Darling’s Ellison 7 colleagues heard about – and tasted – her passion for baking, they pooled together funds and purchased a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. It was a top-of-the-line model, Darling says. “And it’s pink, of course. They just dropped it off on my doorstep with a beautiful card. I burst into tears. Being a nurse, I didn’t freak out when I received my diagnosis. But when that box showed up – that’s when I became overcome with emotion. I can’t say enough about that floor. They are the greatest crew in the world.”
Later that day, Darling logged on to see how much earned time she had left in her account, knowing her balance was nearly depleted. To her surprise, there were 500 hours of earned time – donated by members of the nursing staff. “It was the same day I received the KitchenAid Mixer, so you can imagine I was an absolute wreck and just completely overwhelmed.”
Darling says hours continued to be deposited into her account throughout the duration of treatment, allowing her to be paid for the entirety of her medical leave. “It was just so humbling,” she says. But the support didn’t stop there. Strength and motivation also came in a variety of other ways from her colleagues. “This floor, these nurses, they literally feel like family to me. They supported me in so many different ways. Nurses, they don’t ask you how you’re feeling – they just know.”
The Ellison 7 team is quick to repay the compliments. “Amanda is one of our own,” says Vilma Pacheco, RN. “I think she believes she was the lucky one, but we were the lucky and blessed ones to have watched Amanda fight cancer with such grace, love, kindness and dignity. It was amazing watching her survive.”
Darling says she will carry some of the lessons she’s learned during her battle into her daily work life. “I think having gone through cancer will make me a more empathetic nurse because I know what it’s like to be a patient. And it also might make me a little tougher. I can tell patients, ‘I know what it feels like. But if I can do it, you can do it too.’”
With her cancer treatments behind her, Darling returned to work on Ellison 7 on Feb. 1. She came armed with containers of pink-frosted cupcakes, and her colleagues met her with open arms – welcoming her back, all wearing pink scrubs in her honor.
“This whole experience officially made me an Ellison 7 nurse for life,” Darling says.
Read more articles from the 02/14/14 Hotline issue.