An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Lisa Craven, RN [ Carolina Center of Gynecologic Oncology in Charleston, South Carolina ]
Tammy Wilsford and Lisa Craven, RN PHOTO BY JULIE G. ROWE
I remember the very first time that I met Lisa. I was starting my journey on the cancer rollercoaster and was attending my “orientation” appointment … the appointment where one receives the “how to,” “what to expect” and “next steps” that surround the start of the journey of chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation after a cancer diagnosis.
Lisa walked into the room with a pale pink booklet and sat down at the desk with my husband and me to map out what was coming next ... my first chemo appointment, the laundry list of medications to mitigate the chemo side effects, etc. I distinctly remember how calm and patient and thorough she was at that appointment, as I sat in disbelief at how my life was dramatically changing right before my eyes. It was evident that she was a professional and was fully equipped to handle any emotions, questions or concerns that I might have. She wrote everything down, talked slowly and made sure that I understood everything (as best I could at that point). I left that appointment overwhelmed but armed with the information and tools necessary to take the first steps down the road to my cancer treatment.
Shortly after that first appointment, I was hospitalized … several times. Over a period of about five months, I was admitted to the hospital four or five different times from complications of both the chemotherapy and the cancer itself. It was a period of time that has burned memories into my psyche: memories of pain, fear, sorrow, helplessness and hopelessness. It was during one of those stays that, after being moved to the cancer ward from the cardiac tower, the door to my room overlooking an interior courtyard of grey concrete and dark skies opened, and in walked sunshine; it was Lisa. She was working a shift at the hospital that weekend. I couldn’t have been happier to see someone. The mere presence of her, knowing that she was there if I needed her and that she knew me and my circumstances specifically, made me feel safe, cared for and comforted in a way that no other person could at that moment in time.
With the help of modern medicine and my wonderful oncologist, my days of hospitalization are behind me, for now. Despite that, my visits to my doctor’s office have remained a constant in my life. Every five or six weeks there is lab work and then a subsequent trip to the office to touch base with my doctor, and then it’s down the hall for treatment and a visit with Lisa. It’s during these treatment sessions, as I sit in the recliner and receive my life-sustaining medication, that Lisa and I have gotten to know each other and have developed a close nurse–patient relationship. Over the approximately hour-long appointment, which starts with her expertly placing an IV in my one remaining “good vein” arm, we talk about what’s happened in each of our lives since the last time we spoke, about how I am feeling, about my dogs. We talk about anything and about everything. She finds the time to talk even while receiving phone calls regarding other patients, starting treatment for a woman who just sat down in the room next to me and answering questions from the doctors and medical assistants as they pass by. She is a true professional, and I am in awe of her ability to simultaneously educate, annotate, articulate and medicate.
Fast-forward nearly three years. A lot has occurred since that first introduction to both my “new normal” as a person living with stage IV cancer and to the woman with the pale pink booklet. I have had countless checkups, chest x-rays, blood draws, CT scans and PET scans as we attempt to manage the cancer that is now a fundamental part of my life.
Throughout all of this, Lisa has always been there. Her presence in that little treatment room every six weeks brings a smile to my face and lifts my spirits. Living with cancer is a never-ending adventure, filled with unknowns and nearly constant “what ifs.” All that being said, knowing that Lisa will be there to greet me at each step of the way and at each turn in the road allows me to travel with a level of comfort and security. She is not just my nurse but rather a beloved part of my family, and someone who has cemented her place within my heart.