An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Nancy Dodds, RN, ONC [ Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan ]
Mallory Turchi and Nancy Dodds, RN, ONC - PHOTO BY NOREEN OWENS
How do you write about someone who means so much to you? How do you try to explain to others how someone saved your life? Just thinking about it makes me cry. These lifesavers are perfect, funny, caring and amazing. All of the qualities you want in a person who is giving you their all when you can barely do anything for yourself because you are so sick. The person I am talking about is Nancy Dodds. She has been my #1 supporter. She has been my rock at the hospital when there were questions that I wasn’t sure how to answer.
On October 2, 2015, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I barely knew what leukemia was, let alone what I was in for. Being thrown into this situation, I scrambled for answers to the million questions that raced through my head. When I started chemotherapy at Hurley Medical Center on October 6th, all I felt was anxiety and fear. I had only heard about people taking chemo every couple of weeks, but who were still able to go home to rest and get better. Leukemia is its own ballgame. When receiving chemo, you are unable to go home. You have to stay in the hospital to get better and wait for your white blood cell counts to come up. If not, you are prone to infections, nosebleeds and fevers. The day I met Nancy, my life changed forever. I had never been in a hospital before and so had no idea what to expect. Nancy was there the first day making sure that I had a private room and that it was all clean and ready to go. She helped us carry all of my belongings up to the room and set everything up. I still didn’t really know her that well, but she was so helpful and understanding that I could feel an immediate connection.
As the days passed, she was in my room every day checking on me and my mom. My mom stayed with me the month I was in the hospital the first time, and she and Nancy quickly became friends. Nancy would talk to my mom and explain what was going on and what was happening to me. On the days I felt great and ready to take on the day, Nancy was there. On the days when I could barely muster up enough courage to get out of bed, Nancy was there holding my hand and helping me walk. The day I shaved my head, Nancy was there. I wasn’t feeling well and was in a bad mood, and asked one of my hairdresser friends to come up to the hospital and shave my head because I noticed my hair was falling out. After it was done, Nancy came in my room with a boxful of hats. I sat there with Nancy while my brother and I tried on hats and laughed. She really helped take my mind off a situation that could have been worse. She gave me a few hats from the box — and memories to last a lifetime.
Nancy made sure that I walked daily, even when I felt depressed or in a bad mood. Not being able to smell fresh air and feel the wind is something that most of us don’t think about and take for granted. One day when my counts were good, Nancy took me outside for the first time in almost a month. I was so excited that I cried. To feel the wind on my face and see the fall colors change without a window in between was something I can’t really describe. She wheeled me around and let me see everything there was outside, and even bought me a Hurley Medical Center sweat jacket from the gift shop on our way back in.
Another time when I had a bowel obstruction and couldn’t get out of bed because my stomach hurt so badly, Nancy was there. She let me know it was okay to take medicine and not feel bad about it. See, I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to take strong medications. I felt bad asking for the meds, and she let me know I shouldn’t feel that way. If I needed it, then I needed it. If I wouldn’t have taken the medication, there was no way I could have gotten out of bed to walk, and in turn, gotten rid of the stomach issue I had.
The one thing Nancy did for me that I will never forget is celebrating my 30th birthday with me. She knew I was already upset that I was spending my birthday in the hospital, but she knew I felt pretty depressed that it was my 30th and I was sick. I have never asked “why me?” but I never thought in a million years I would spend my 30th birthday in the hospital with cancer. Nancy came up after her shift was over with a giant cake, balloons, a present and some nonalcoholic wine! It was so amazing! I know I may not have shown it, but I was so thankful. Just knowing that someone cared so much for me was humbling. She sat there and talked with me and my mother and father. We laughed, joked around, and for a little bit, I got to forget I was sick. I got to feel “normal” again.
Nancy makes me feel like a person and not a patient. She makes me feel like I matter and that my life matters. Whenever she stepped into the room, I could always tell that she really cared, had true compassion and that I wasn’t taking up one second of her time. She always wanted to make sure that I was feeling well, both mentally and physically. She is not just my nurse, she is my friend. We still keep in contact. We text each other and meet up for lunch in between my chemo and bone marrow transplant. I’ve even met her daughters. They are great, just like her; I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
Nancy is the type of woman that you look up to. She is not just a nurse, she is the perfect nurse. She really cares about what she does. She gives me hope and encouragement when I don’t have any. She has pushed me when I didn’t think I could do it. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. I remember one day I told my mom I was done. I was done trying and fighting. I was sick of being sick and feeling like crap. I couldn’t mentally do it anymore. My mom talked to Nancy, and Nancy came in and talked to me. She talked me through it and gave me my mental strength back.
I could sit here and write about all of the things she has done for me, but I wouldn’t have to explain any of this if you met her. She says it all with her work. I’d heard the quote, “Always thank your nurse. Sometimes they’re the only thing between you and a hearse.” I didn’t truly realize how true that was until I met Nancy Dodds.