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Calm in the Storm
June 16, 2015 – Cathie Smith
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My Kind of Nurse

MARGARET WHALEN is my kind of nurse!
BY Susan Howard
PUBLISHED June 16, 2015
MARGARET WHALEN is my kind of nurse! Margaret Whalen exemplifies all of the critically important qualities an oncology nurse must possess to provide excellent care to her patients. Let me tell you my “Margaret Story.” It begins on April 1, 2013, when, after several weeks of symptoms, I was diagnosed with inoperable stage 3 pancreatic cancer. The physicians who provided the diagnosis told me to go ahead with my planned scuba diving vacation to Grand Cayman. Armed with steroids, enzymes and other meds, I was able to get to the Caribbean. 

FOR THE NEXT WEEK I cried often, thinking maybe it was the last I would see of that gorgeous blue water. I managed to do a few dives and filled my mask with many tears. The time away in the Caribbean turned out to be a godsend, completely unrelated to diving and blue water. It provided the time needed to reflect on what I wanted in cancer treatment. 

Soon after our return, in a twist of fate, we were set up to see an oncologist, Dr. Marsh. He walked in smiling, pulled up an exam stool and said he was saving the “throne” at the computer for Margaret, his nurse. He said she got the throne because that was where the important work got done. This seemed to be a reverential recommendation from a doctor who recognized Margaret’s importance to him and his patients. My husband and I had a two-hour appointment that day—two hours of talking about diagnosis, information about clinical trials, review of my proposed treatment plan, education about the chemotherapy I would take, how they would follow my progress and response to treatment and even an overview of future 
treatment and surgery based on my response to treatment. 
 
Dr. Marsh eventually left us in Margaret’s capable hands. Together we sat comfortably until all of our questions were answered, the plan firm in our minds and my first treatment set up there in order to expedite treatment, with future treatments set up at another hospital that was more convenient for us. Margaret talked with us as a patient-provider team. Our goal was to reduce tumor mass and make the tumor operable, which was my only chance for a cure. Wow!

Both she and Dr. Marsh made us feel like we could beat this nasty disease. Margaret walked us out of the office and downstairs to the door. She smiled and said, “Someday we will be talking about this meeting.” I felt at home with her. She was just like my nurse friends who are excellent nurses on all counts. 
 
All the way home, my husband and I talked about how different a mood and feeling we got from this visit. We were buoyed, and hope was restored. Who could be smiling with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer? We were! And we were anxious to start. 
 
On the first day of chemotherapy, Margaret had also prearranged for the rest of the team to see me: the social worker, oncology dietitian/nutritionist and pharmacist. Everything was in place. And every time I had chemotherapy, Margaret was around to answer questions that I had or that the nurses had about me, or maybe to just poke her head in and allay my fears in her calm, reassuring way. 
 
She always seemed calm, but I learned, on a moment’s notice, she would make an assessment and spring into action. One day while I was having chemo, she stopped by to check on me. Carefully questioning me, she determined I was having a side effect that had started soon after my chemo nurse had stepped out of the room. She quietly said she would be right back. The next thing I knew, the rapid response team of my chemo nurse, a second nurse and the pharmacist were there in a flash, evaluated my chemo response and took care of me. No muss, no fuss, just Margaret’s business as usual. 
 
Margaret never expected my 36 years of nursing experience to be a substitute for the information she provided for me, her patient. When I had questions about how I felt or my medications that I felt just couldn’t wait until my next visit, she was always readily responsive that day by phone, despite her long hours and many patients. 
 
It is now almost one year to the day that I started feeling sick. I have been through chemo, radiation therapy with chemo, a long Whipple surgery and more chemo. Margaret was there through it all. I am happy to say it has been a year because I am a one-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. 
 
This chapter of my “Margaret Story” ends. I plan to be a long-term survivor, and I know Margaret will walk in survival with me, making future chapters in the story possible. 
 
Margaret Whalen has and will continue to epitomize for me what a nurse should be: competent, caring, compassionate, calm and calming, conscientious, and all with a sense of humor. She is my kind of nurse, and I am so happy and fortunate that she is mine! 
 
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