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A Healer for the Heart and Soul Throughout My Cancer Journey

An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Shirley Davis, RN, OCN [Wellmont Health System in Tennessee]
BY Jessica Bembry, RN, BSN, OCN and Sissy Smith
PUBLISHED June 12, 2016
Shirley Davis, RN, OCN and Jessica Bembry, RN, BSN, OCN - PHOTO BY ERIKA ASHBY
Shirley Davis, RN, OCN and Jessica Bembry, RN, BSN, OCN - PHOTO BY ERIKA ASHBY
Shirley is the epitome of an outstanding oncology nurse. She goes above and beyond on a daily basis. She puts forth all of her efforts to make each patient feel as if they are the most important person in the world. She always makes sure all of their needs are met — physically, emotionally and spiritually. Shirley has a genuine love for each of her patients and their families.

An example of her generosity is providing a weekend beach trip for a patient who was terminally ill. She made arrangements for the patient and his wife to take a last-minute trip before he decided to transition to hospice care. There is not a patient in our facility who does not know Shirley, and the joy and love she brings to our working environment is tangible. In the years I have worked with Shirley, I have seen her give her heart to our patients, and she does this without reservation. She laughs with them, cries for them, prays over them and does everything she can to ease their cancer journey. I asked a patient to describe Shirley in her own words, and this is what I received:

Angels Walk Among Us

Where do I begin to describe the extraordinary oncology nurses who have touched my life this year? I am going to tell you about one of these special healers who, on the very first day she was assigned to administer my chemo, touched my soul.

Shirley Davis literally bounced into my treatment pod with such a joyful spirit that first day that one would have thought she was at a party. And that day and every other day has been the same — a party. It was a celebration of giving hope, of walking with me on my journey, holding my hand,explaining the medical information to my husband and me without us having to ask, attending to my every need and sharing my favorite thing — hugs.

Shirley became a part of our family that very first day. My husband Roger nicknamed her “Alvin,” after the chipmunk that lives under our back porch who lives his days at the speed of lightning. He races from point to point, getting the most out of every day. Shirley’s days are not only fast-paced but they also are filled with love and care, not just for the patients, but for her co-workers, too. We noticed on my first day of treatment how she was always on the run to help in any way and spreading her beautiful smile and laughter to everyone at the center.

During our first encounter, Shirley prayed with us, and I knew immediately that God had put her in my life to be my very own cheerleader for this chapter. I have from day one fought this battle with faith, hope and a positive attitude. And my fight has been fed with Shirley’s gift of sharing her faith — her uplifting and enthusiastic hope, as she also supported my husband and caregiver, paying him personal attention and making sure he is taking care of himself.

One month after I was diagnosed in February 2015, the wife in a couple I’ve been friends with for years was diagnosed with liver cancer. After hearing the news, I was stuck on questioning God and saying it wasn’t fair. A few weeks after the wife’s diagnosis, the husband found out he had to have heart surgery. Another time I questioned God, and depression hit home. Each time I had chemotherapy, Shirley asked about my friends and always knew exactly what to say and encouraged me to keep my attitude and faith in God. I kept repeating every day, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.”

On one particular day, after receiving bad news about my friend’s recuperation from his surgery, Shirley (who wasn’t my treatment nurse that day) came over to check on me. In the midst of hugs, I heard her whisper in my ear, “I will never leave you nor forsake you, says the Lord. I did not give you the spirit of fear but of love, peace, sound mind.” I can still hear her voice and the words she spoke that day in those quiet times at night. She assured me that my attitude and faith would not only get me through my battle, but that sharing my positive attitude and faith could help others be strong and also reinforce my faith.

Her words of love, kindness and faith helped me cope when I lost both of those friends (he from surgery complications and she from her cancer) a few months later, and then lost a treasured and much-loved cousin to pancreatic cancer a month after that. Her words inspired me to post positive and inspiring quotes on my Facebook page daily, and also to send some by email to friends and family. I’m trying to let my light shine for others while at the same time enriching my faith.

Shirley also advises me about nutrition and building up my strength. She emails or messages me (most times late at night after she gets home from work) asking what I’ve eaten or telling me to try this or that. I had to take a two-week break after my first new chemo treatment the first of December (and was hospitalized for four days due to potassium problems and severe nausea). My off-time was spent trying to gain weight and get stronger.

I don’t need to tell you who called or wrote to check on me every day after I got out of the hospital. I started out at 93 pounds, but with her coaching and my determined attitude, I weighed in yesterday for my second treatment of new chemo at 101.4. When Shirley and the other angel nurses heard the news, they were all hugging and high-fiving each other. What a winning team this group is. This staff is our family, and I am blessed beyond measure that they are in my life.

My prayer for this year is for successful chemo treatments. I want to volunteer at the chemo center late next year and any other place where there is a need. I still have a long road, but believe that God isn’t through with me yet — and I’d like to be a “Shirley, Jr.” and spread hope, a positive attitude, love, kindness and faith. I’ve said from the first day of treatment that everyone at the oncology and radiation centers are the best gifts that my husband and I have ever received. They have become part of our family who we “love to the moon and back.”
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