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My Oncology Angel

Winning Essay: CURE’s 2012 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing

BY Greg Schilling
PUBLISHED June 14, 2012

When I first received my cancer diagnosis, I was filled with dread. It was stage 4. I had recently lost my wife of 30 years to cancer. She was diagnosed at stage 4. I had no reason to hope, at first. Oh, I wanted to hope, but after a little quick research on the Web, I knew the statistical probabilities of my mortality and began getting my affairs in order.

I “strapped myself in” for the emotional roller coaster that all cancer patients seem to ride. I’m more emotional than the average male. My sister, a nurse, once sent me a poem by James Kavanaugh titled “There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves.” The recollections of what my wife had endured overwhelmed and consumed me. The details of the treatment she received made me determined to go to a different treatment facility than where she had been.

I knew the importance of having a caring oncologist and nursing staff, especially when dealing with a disease that had hurled me into an indescribable feeling of hopelessness. I chose the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. I hoped and prayed I could get in. It is a very well-known cancer center in the region and is quite busy. It is best known for being the place where Lance Armstrong was treated. I got in. 

I was blessed with being cared for by a most wonderful nurse, Sheila Dropcho, BSN, RN, CCRP. I know a little something about nurses; my mother was a nurse, my sister is a nurse and my first wife was a nurse. Sheila Dropcho is certainly the epitome of what a nurse should be. She has empathy, compassion and caring that is so genuine, I feel it when I see her. She has given me hope on many of the dark days I’ve had. 

I have told her that 10 minutes with her does me more good than 30 minutes or more with anybody else in that facility. She understands me, and she always puts forth the effort to answer any and all of my questions. I am at a loss to put into words the overwhelming feeling of well-being I get after an office visit where she has answered all of my questions in a most patient way. She has even taken time to see me, and reassure me on some especially frightening days, despite the fact that I didn’t have an appointment.

Sheila has been responsible for getting me into two clinical trials...I’m alive today because of her extra effort on my part.

Sheila has been responsible for getting me into two clinical trials. The first trial did not generate the response that the researchers were looking for, and I was dropped from the study. Sheila sensed immediately how hopeless I felt. It wasn’t long before she found another clinical trial and went through the laborious process to get me entered into it. I’m still in that trial, and my tumors stopped growing, and my overall mass has shrunk 16 percent. 

I’m alive today because of her extra effort on my part. From what I’ve seen over the past three years, Sheila is the same steady, gracious lady with everyone, staff and patients alike. It’s not uncommon to see people reach out and hug her. 

Sheila Dropcho has been a nurse for 32 years. Her husband, Edward Dropcho, is a doctor specializing in neuro-oncology. She has three grown, well-accomplished children. I asked her on a recent visit how she avoids the burnout that so many in some nursing fields seem to experience. She shared with me a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that is above her desk: “One should […] be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” I’ve been fortunate to be a recipient of her unbridled determination. 

I am better today, three years after my diagnosis, due to the hope and care that I have been privileged to receive from Sheila Dropcho. She recently went the extra mile and was able to obtain Medicare payment for a drug that had been previously denied. The drug, essential to my quality of life, had been previously covered by my COBRA carrier. 

In my second year of treatment, my oncology doctor confided to me that he thought that I had about nine months to live when he first saw me. That was three years ago. Sheila Dropcho has given me the hope that nurtures both my body and soul. 

There is a billboard in our area that has a slogan that describes best what I feel about Sheila Dropcho: “Caring for cancer is a science. Inspiring hope … is an art.” Sheila Dropcho is to oncology nursing what Michelangelo is to art and truly deserves recognition for being such an exceptional nurse and person. She has been more helpful to me and my family than I could have ever hoped for. I’m only one patient, but I am living proof that Sheila Dropcho is an extraordinary nurse. She accomplishes her hope-giving healing several times a day, several days a week and over the years has mastered doing so effortlessly and naturally.

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