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The Humblest Hero

THERE IS A POEM by the author Linda Ellis called "The Dash," which refers to the dates on a tombstone, from the beginning to the end.
BY Dallas Lawry
PUBLISHED June 16, 2015
THERE IS A POEM by the author Linda Ellis called “The Dash,” which refers to the dates on a tombstone, from the beginning to the end. 
 
… 
So, when your eulogy is being read, 
with your life’s actions to rehash… 
 
 
would you be proud of the things they say 
about how you spent YOUR dash? 
… 
 
A DASH. A tiny little line that, at the last sentence of your story, represents you entire life. Debra Lawry is the type of person that has taken her dash and touched too many lives to count.

Debbie is that nurse whom patients stop in the grocery store and say, “Do you remember me? You helped me through my chemo.” She is that nurse whom peers say, “You always work at 200 percent, and I don’t know how you do it.” She is that nurse that walks with her survivors at Relay For Life, including her own mother, a breast cancer survivor. She is a patient advocate who has lobbied multiple times on Capitol Hill for the betterment of drug trials and affordability of chemotherapy. She is a bright smile and a loud burst of laughter. She is genuine, she is authentic, and she is an oncology nurse that has changed my life.

I am not a patient. I am not even a cancer survivor. But I have known Debbie for my entire life, and to say that she is a selfless caregiver with the heart of an oncology nurse, is the utmost understatement.

Since the day she earned her nursing degree, she has worked in the field of oncology, and has dedicated her entire life to it. Starting at St. John’s Hospital in Oxnard, California, she spent about 20 years with the Ventura County Hematology Oncology Specialists, making her way from the acute oncology setting to the ambulatory care setting. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in nursing education in order to train the next generation of nurses to be brilliant and compassionate patient advocates. She has also taken a firm leadership role in her field and is an esteemed oncology nurse educator for Amgen.

PHOTO BY ANGELA IZZO

Dallas Lawry with Debra Anne Lawry, RN, OCN [right]

But she didn’t always live in the world where cancer was no longer a death sentence. Debbie is from the time before growth factors and monoclonal antibodies. She has watched the promising practice of oncology become a world of hope and has just fallen even more in love with it.

Debbie doesn’t use any of these words to describe herself. She is an exceptional leader and looked to as an expert nurse in the field, but she would never admit to it. She has earned numerous awards for her excellent patient care and work with Amgen, but would never tell anyone. She has planned entire Oncology Nursing Society symposiums for small chapters seeking help. But her greatest pride in the world is truly knowing that she has made a difference.

Debbie’s humility is sometimes upsetting. I want her to know how phenomenal she is and how many people view her as a mentor, including myself. She has taught me that the most rewarding thing about oncology nursing is not all the plaques and the state-of-the-art research, it’s the face of a patient who is truly at peace. It is the tears of a patient who has won the fight. It’s the subtle smile in a patient’s last breath. This is who Debbie truly is, the humblest of heroes.

She has shared the laughs and wiped the tears of cancer patients for the past 26 years. Most people only see the direct patient care side of oncology nursing, but Debbie has done all of it. The side that only few people see is the fearless leaders who set out to make a difference on a larger scale. She is a firm believer in clinical trials, in getting the best drugs to the patients when they need them most. She has stood on Capitol Hill fighting for these patients as they are at home battling their diseases. She knows the ethics of end-of-life care and educates on it. She has a strong desire to shape the future of nursing, and this is the driving force behind her going back to school. Debbie encompasses all aspects of the field of oncology, and in every single way, she strives for the best cancer care the United States can offer. She has truly dedicated her entire life to oncology.

“Cancer” is one of the most devastating words a patient and family can hear. It is truly an art to turn such a shocking and damaging diagnosis into an attitude of hope and strength. It is one thing to cure a disease, it’s another thing to cure a person, but it’s Debra Lawry who humbly does both. It is always such a privilege to meet people who truly live each day of their life with the sole purpose of making a difference in the world. But it is an honor to call that person your mother.

On May 9, 2014, I was pinned into the nursing profession by my mom. I am so proud to follow in the footsteps of someone so humble yet so extraordinary, to be pinned into such a rewarding profession by someone who has truly been an exemplary oncology nurse.
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