Carolina Fasola, M.D., M.P.H.
Hannah Blalock, RN, is a truly exemplary nurse. I have had the absolute honor of working alongside her for nearly two years in the radiation oncology department of Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) in Charlotte, North Carolina. I first worked with Hannah while visiting a satellite of Levine Cancer Institute in the smaller town of Albemarle, North Carolina. She astounded me by going above and beyond for every patient in the department to ensure they all received the medical care they deserved. A local of the town herself, she prided herself on knowing all aspects of the patients’ cancer journeys, rather than limiting herself to the realm of their radiation treatments. I knew then that she was a special nurse with a tremendous heart who sought to help out each patient in any way possible. I know now that she is truly extraordinary.
I now work with Hannah one-on-one in a symbiotic physician/nurse relationship with the sole purpose of bettering the lives of our patients with cancer. She came to work at our central department in the middle of Charlotte so she could practice both her procedural and clinical skills. At this center, there is a unique opportunity to participate in surgical procedures involving radioactive seeds in the treatment of gynecologic and genitourinary malignancies. On any given day, Hannah may find herself facing the demands of a busy clinic in the outpatient setting and/or participating directly in the procedural side of our department as assistant to the physician during said procedures, as well as prepping and recovering our patients after anesthesia. In addition, she is often tasked with handling the prep and recovery of our pediatric patients who receive anesthesia for daily radiation treatments. She handles all these diverse jobs with tremendous skill; she remains calm under pressure and, most important, has an unwaveringly kind and compassionate attitude.
From left: Carolina Fasola, M.D., and Hannah Blalock, RN
Photos by Leslie Mason
In my first year of working with Hannah on a regular basis, we were seeing a patient in clinic who was scheduled to undergo hip replacement surgery due to the development of heterotopic ossification. He was seen in our clinic to discuss radiation therapy as a maintenance treatment following his surgery. This is one of the few benign conditions for which radiation may be used. In preparing for his visit to our clinic, Hannah spent over an hour delving into his medical record and was intrigued when she noticed a single high blood glucose level in his past for which further testing had been recommended but never pursued. She brought this to my attention, and together we encouraged him to get further testing for diabetes. She even contacted his primary care doctor’s office to schedule a visit for the very next day, as the patient was set to have surgery only days later. Unfortunately, his testing did reveal that he had uncontrolled diabetes; fortunately, his surgery was canceled for a later date, once his diabetes was controlled. Her in-depth review of his medical record and clinical astuteness in recognizing a single increased glucose level prevented what could have been a major complication with surgery due to uncontrolled diabetes. The patient did return to our clinic to thank us, and I knew then that I was in the presence of a truly extraordinary nurse.
In this past year, Hannah and I have treated many children with cancer who required radiation therapy, ranging from infants to teenagers, some of whom have come to us in the late stages of their fight with cancer. It can be emotionally difficult to work day in and day out with this population of patients, but Hannah does so with such grace and compassion that it is inspiring to watch. She makes our pediatric patients feel at ease as they go through the daunting process of receiving radiation. She is always thinking of ways to make them feel better, such as by chatting with them about sports or telling her famous stories. She is always able to light up their faces with joy. I have a patient who is a teenage girl who recently finished a long course of radiation to the head and neck region, a particularly difficult area in which to receive radiation. At the end of the course, she told me she was sad to leave her friends in radiation behind, including her beloved nurse, Hannah. It fills me with joy to see that my patients
are so well cared for and loved by Hannah.
Hannah is exactly what an oncology nurse should strive to be. She is masterful in her skills. She is compassionate, kind, funny and caring. She will drop whatever she is doing when someone is in need. She runs toward alarms, codes or screams to see if she can be of any assistance. Earlier this month, after hearing someone calling, she ran outside of the hospital to check on a person who had fainted in the street. She was able to pass on vital information to emergency medical service when an ambulance came to transport the person to the emergency room.
She never limits herself to her assigned duties for the day but, instead, is always eager to help out wherever she can, even if it takes her outside of the department or what might be expected for the role of a nurse in radiation oncology. For example, she once noticed that a patient with breast cancer had missed a preoperative visit, and she took it upon herself to call the preop clinic to notify them of the situation, draw labs and perform an electrocardiogram with my help to ensure that the patient’s surgery wasn’t canceled. She always tries to help patients, both young and old, in any way she can and bring them a smile. It is my absolute privilege to work with such an extraordinary healer every day.