An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring TARA CHRISTION, B.S.N., RN [BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT GROUP OF GEORGIA, ATLANTA]
BY Jacquelyn Pryor, Ph.D.
Tara Christion, B.S.N., RN - PHOTO BY LAUREN EDITH ANDERSEN
What can I say about Tara Christion? Well, plenty, but because I have only a thousand words, I’d better focus my efforts.
For you to understand anything I have to say about Ms. Tara (as I lovingly call her), I will need to begin with my story. My name is Jackie Pryor, and I am a four-time cancer survivor. I still pause when I reflect on my journey and the realization that, four separate times in my life, I have fought a battle that no person should have to brave even once. At the age of 29, I found myself face-to-face with stage 4 anaplastic large cell lymphoma, which I fought and won — well, not I, but God, myself and an army of prayer warriors, too.
After my first of three relapses in 2012, I was urged to reconsider a stem cell transplant. I acquiesced and became a patient at the Bone Marrow Transplant Group of Georgia. This is where I first met Tara. It would take two more battles before I won the war, which is where I now find myself: cancer-free, permanently.
In 2012, I faced a difficult medical challenge for the first time (but not the only time — I would receive an allogeneic transplant in 2014 following my third relapse).
Because chemotherapy had chased lymphoma to the recesses of my body, my oncologists felt comfortable pursuing an autologous stem cell transplant (meaning that we harvested my own stem cells). But even this less-risky procedure would require me to have a caregiver and to sit in a medical clinic for up to eight hours every day for three weeks, possibly longer, depending on my body’s reaction to the harvested cells and a regenerating immune system. So, I didn’t just meet Ms. Tara; we were paired and saw each other nearly every day. In a way, it felt like a well-matched marriage: She turned out to be just what I needed at one of the scariest times in my life. That was five years ago, and I still consider her a sister and a friend; she is a part of my family.
I would describe her in three words: competent, passionate and dedicated. I view stem cell transplantation as precise medical science. It involves cell harvesting, high-dose chemotherapy, stem cell infusion, daily bloodwork, complicated pharmacology, monitoring and treating side effects, and the list goes on. All nurses have their hands full, but an oncology nurse in a transplant clinic … need I say more? Ms. Tara and every other oncology nurse are special. Balancing the responsibilities associated with caring for extremely and sometimes terminally ill patients in a way that exudes confidence and competence is no simple task. I appreciate my nurse’s ability, in particular, to effectively manage my care. Every time I saw her, she was diligent with asking all the pertinent questions about bowel movements, headaches, sleep patterns, emotional state, pain level, medications and dosage — all without missing a beat. Though she cared for multiple patients, I never felt slighted or concerned about my care. Ms. Tara provided optimal treatment, and that is beyond competence.