An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring LINDSAY NORRIS, RN, B.S.N. [THE UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HEALTH SYSTEM, WESTWOOD, KANSAS]
BY Abbey Brockman, RN, B.S.N., OCN Nurse Manager, Westwood Exam/Radiation Oncology, University of Kansas Cancer Center
Lindsay Norris, RN, B.S.N., and Abbey Brockman, RN, B.S.N., OCN - PHOTOS BY STEVE PUPPE PHOTOGRAPHY
It is difficult to write an essay on someone who has quickly become a national inspiration to those in the oncology field. Lindsay Norris has been a nurse for nearly a decade and has spent her entire career in oncology care. One of the first questions I ask my employees, and any nurse in oncology, is, “How did oncology choose you?” I ask this knowing that almost every oncology nurse has a heartbreaking story of personal triumph or family defeat, or a connection that will bring one to tears. When I asked Lindsay this question, she did not really have a tried and true story, but said that it was between oncology and labor and delivery. She was placed on the bone marrow transplant floor at The University of Kansas Health System. From there, she transferred to the outpatient clinic after a scare with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening pregnancy complication, with her first child. Harry is now 4 and could charge for his comedic antics already. Last year, Lindsay gave birth to a beautiful healthy little girl. Everything seemed to be perfect for her and her adorable family, but she still did not have an exact experience that led to her oncology career.
After her most recent pregnancy, Lindsay was having some gastrointestinal issues that warranted a colonoscopy, which led to an appointment in her place of employment and a diagnosis that no one ever wants to hear: stage 3 colorectal cancer. I remember the day clearly as Lindsay and her husband came to my office to talk through her taking the rest of the day off. Tears were shed, shock was felt and I sent my nurse home for the day, not knowing what the future held for her. I look back on that moment and cannot believe how far Lindsay has come during these past couple of months. Within two weeks, she had started a blog and named this era of her life “Here Comes the Sun.” She posted photos and told the world about her personal journey that she was still attempting to understand. She went on to post a piece titled, “To Every Cancer Patient I Ever Took Care Of, I’m Sorry I Didn’t Get It.” She brought tears to our eyes and inspired oncology nurses everywhere to do better by our patients and their families. She reminded us to holistically care for the woman battling breast cancer, to ask about the children and the events of the day for the teacher receiving chemotherapy, and to think about the personal and professional life of the CEO needing a workup when we hand him a schedule of tests that need to be completed. Lindsay apologized to the patients and families she had cared for, and shared with the world the reality of regret that nurses feel.
Today, Lindsay is a nurse educator at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. She makes sure that we have all of our ducks in a row with regard to compliance and knowledge, but she has touched us far more than that. Lindsay has been our shining light, our reminder to care more, do more and treat each patient and family as if they were our own. Sometimes, we do not realize the reasons for our choices or the experiences we are given. For Lindsay, it now seems clear that she was placed in the oncology field for a true reason. She was situated with one of the best cancer centers in the Midwest just minutes from her home. She is surrounded by nurses she can touch and educate, but also rely on in times of need. She knew most of the journey that our patients go through, but also shared her insights on the things we’ve omitted in our education. She likely has more home-cooked meals in her freezer than she could ever imagine, and a new outlook on life that puts us all to shame. As I write this, Lindsay and her family are enjoying a well-deserved vacation in the warm weather of Florida beaches — and watching as “here comes the sun.”