From left: Carol J. Stalzer, B.S.N., RN, CBCN, and Deborah Dion PHOTOS BY TARA FLANNERY
After dealing with breast cancer originally in 2004-05, and again with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer since 2013, I have experienced many nursing professionals in the industry and, specifically, at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The oncology nurse is the first face I see in a profession that supports the fight of my life. She or he sets the tone for the course of the appointment and establishes the rapport for a positive or negative attitude, no matter the results of my tests.
My nominee, Carol Stalzer, of MD Anderson Breast Center, is that perfect combination of love, welcoming, nurturing, steadiness, knowledge and confidence that greets me each time I go for my every-three-months follow-up after my bone scan. She calls me to the door with a beautiful smile on her face and eyes that light up when she sees me. Carol hugs me with such love and affection that I feel completely at home and safe in her care. She is totally interested in me, what I have been doing since my last visit and what I have planned in my life. When I have a concern, she answers me with extreme confidence and readily has an answer to support my needs.
What I admire most about her character is that she is willing to make difficult changes in her life to improve her health, too. She didn’t complain about being overweight and out of shape at one time — she just did something about it. I watched her over time practicing what she preached about good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle in order to support my cancer journey, so she has proved she is willing to do the hard stuff, too. That makes me feel like I have not only a nursing professional attending to my needs but also a partner who is willing to do what it takes to help me become the healthiest version of myself — and that we can do it together.
Being an oncology nurse is a great weight to bear. Carol doesn’t just leave it all behind at the end of a shift, because cancer can be a long-term disease. She sees numerous patients over many years and watches many of us succumb to its effects on the human body. That is so much pressure to withstand and hold up to, but Carol does so with such grace. Her total focus is me, the patient in front of her, and I never know the dynamics of what she has dealt with that day or week. I never know those difficult days that bring her down, because she does not complain or show a long face in front of me. Like all of us, Carol does not have a personal life that is always perfect, and yet she puts all that aside to give me her best, takes care of me and leaves me better than when I came in.
I often wonder who and what lifts her up and out of the fear and pain she must see behind those doors every day. I can only hope to give her back at least a portion of what she gives to me.
What she gives cannot be measured by any standardized measurement system. It is beyond any corporate objective and any words I am attempting to use to describe Carol. It is simply an innate piece of her DNA. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is living out a prewired sense of her destiny, and I’m blessed enough to be in her pathway of life.
In talking with the oncologist that Carol supports and the staff that works with her, I learned that she is always willing to help others in their endeavors. It is said that she is the first to come to the needs of others and offers to run errands throughout the facility if needed.
Although most people cringe at the thought of test-result appointments, I look forward to my visits, because I know who is waiting for me on the other side of that door — a nursing professional who does practice what she preaches, and her name is Carol Stalzer. That is a true gift from her being and like no other. Thank you, Carol!