"Cindy is a model of what a rewarding retirement can hold if your heart is wide open and giving," wrote Sandy Allten, RN, OCN, CCRP.
Her beautiful smile is what you see first when you meet Cindy Thornton, RN. It’s a warm, genuine, glowing smile. Next, you hear her soothing and melodious voice — a voice that was made to read children’s stories out loud or comfort patients with cancer on their darkest days. When a patient sees that smile and hears that voice for the first time, it means immediate calm and comfort have arrived.
To know her is to love her! For five years, Cindy worked in her official role as a cancer center certified breast cancer nurse navigator. A breast cancer survivor herself, she helped hundreds
of women navigate the challenges of treatment. They trusted her expertise and knowledge as a nurse. The fact that she was a survivor gave her an immediate bond with her patients. It also gave those patients hope and reassurance that cancer may not be the death sentence they had thought it was. Here was a survivor (who became the ultimate patient advocate) who was not only alive but also thriving and one of their own! She knew exactly how they felt at any given moment. That bond was priceless.
With a survivor’s knowledge and the superpower to live every day to the fullest, two years ago Cindy made the decision to retire from her day job to pursue some of her other creative talents. She enjoyed time with her family, pursued her florist skills and helped her husband “flip” houses. But she missed being able to help other breast cancer survivors, which she knew was her truest and most rewarding passion.
From left: Cindy Thornton, RN, and Sandy Allten, RN, OCN, CCRP
Photos: Kelly Robinson
When her mentor — also a breast cancer navigator and survivor — received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Cindy was one of a posse of friends who worked tirelessly before the woman’s death to show her what would be created in her honor: a legacy of advocacy to help other women with cancer. Cindy and a group of founders developed a grassroots community resource center called Charlene’s Dream, which offers education in the form of one-on-one sessions, event nights and monthly support groups. This center also offers mastectomy bras, lymphedema sleeves, port protectors, comfort pillows, and used and new breast prosthetics to those in need — all for free.
Cindy used her house-flipping skills and enormous amounts of sweat equity to transform a small outbuilding on a church campus into a warm, welcoming cottage resembling a boutique. I cannot even begin to count the number of volunteer hours in the Florida heat it took for her to help transform our donated space. Her eclectic and artsy Key West style helped create a cozy place where women with cancer could come to get help and feel safe and at ease.
She is a beloved earth mother to all. Many of her navigated patients have followed her here to our community resource program and the group she facilitates called Girls’ Night Out. Cindy is super creative, and there are always interesting topics and exercises to try during her group. And let’s not forget the healing benefits of chocolate and wine! The support groups, while sometimes tackling tough subjects, remain upbeat and fun, and that is mainly due to Cindy’s great attitude.
She is on the founding board of Charlene’s Dream. She teaches weekly Breast Cancer 101 classes at a local surgeon’s office, alternating with sessions at Charlene’s Dream. She is available every Wednesday to help women find mastectomy bras or wigs to aid them in rebuilding their confidence.
She helps women at all stages of cancer fully understand their diagnoses by explaining their pathology reports or telling them what they can expect with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. She works with nurse navigators and social workers from both of the hospitals in our town and refers the patients she sees to them to use some of their resources as needed, too. She feels passionate that this community grassroots support program that we developed is the perfect adjunct to what patients are receiving at their respective hospitals, the goal being that no patient is missed. The ultimate aim is that all women who need further education and support receive it free of charge.
Cindy trains many of the patients she has helped to become volunteers at Charlene’s Dream. She also goes out into the community to tell various citizen groups about what we do there. This helps to both spread the word about our services and raise funds for our small nonprofit so we can continue to give everything away for free.
Did I mention that, except for a small honorarium for teaching the breast cancer classes, all the hours that Cindy puts into Charlene’s Dream are done on a volunteer basis? Cindy has given a countless amount of time freely and generously because of her passion to help other survivors of cancer. She is an excellent nurse and a true patient advocate who has paid it forward to help others.
Cindy is a model of what a rewarding retirement can hold if your heart is wide open and giving. As many talented and experienced oncology nurses begin to hit their retirement years, I can’t help but think of all that we could accomplish in the world if we all followed in Cindy’s footsteps.