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Better than Superwoman

Nominating Kelley is my way of thanking her from the bottom of my heart for all she did and continues to do, not only for me but for so many other cancer patients and families.
BY Joy Huber, M.S.H.C.
PUBLISHED August 08, 2019
I think all who have been diagnosed with cancer hope for a medical team with a high level of expertise. But it’s also imperative to hit it off with your medical team in order to trust them. People do business with those they like, and we’ve all heard the maxim: “People don’t care how much you know … until they know how much you care.”

I met Kelley Oligmueller, OCN, at the most devastating time of my life. I was a 33-year-old single woman who felt fine, but my mom observed a bulge in my neck. I told her I was probably gaining some weight and simply getting fuller in the face. But I had worriedly noticed that the bulge wasn’t symmetrical. She had pushed on it and asked me if it hurt, and I said “No.” But we went to my primary care physician anyway to have it checked.

Much of that appointment is a blur to me. The doctor ordered a CT scan to be read immediately, and then mentioned (worst-case scenario) lymphoma. Cancer? Me? After seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist (who severely lacked a caring bedside manner), and having an ultrasound needle biopsy, the results came back with a confirmation of lymphoma. I was scheduled to see my oncologist, Dr. Daniel Moravec (now retired), at Nebraska Hematology-Oncology. He told me, “This is very serious.” But he also thought he could fix it.

Super Kelley quickly earned her nickname, as she didn’t meet my expectations but exceeded them. How could someone anticipate my needs and know what I was thinking that I hadn’t even verbalized yet? Super Kelley could. With her extensive experience treating cancer patients, education and compassionate personality, she just knew what I needed — and provided it quickly!

My oncologist would order something, and my mom and I would be waiting in our room. Super Kelley would enter and say, “Done.” I figured she would say she’d left a message and we were awaiting a return call. But with the relationships she’s built in the Lincoln medical community, she could connect with the people we needed on the team to keep things moving forward. I was dealing with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, after all. Whether it was more tests, procedures and treatment or other resources, she took care of it.

She truly treats patients like they are her own family, making you feel like your own complete healing is the most important thing to her personally. You definitely don’t feel like another patient or task. And it’s appreciated — immensely.

Kelley always has a warm smile and a positive, reassuring look in her eyes that says, ‘It’ll be all right’ — no matter what the next step is. When I was at chemo with a warm blanket placed over me, Super Kelley noticed I was still shivering, and here came another warm blanket … that I didn’t even have to ask for. When they’re busy with so many patients and trying to be sure they administer the right chemo to the right person, many nurses might not have time to notice these small things. But Kelley did, and they were huge to me.

When my hair was cut short, and I was at chemo, Kelley provided a hug (and those came repeatedly) as I experienced many physical changes from treatment. When my hair was falling out and we had my head shaved, she provided a comforting pat on the hand. This compassionate touch was welcome and needed when many others treated me like they couldn’t touch me now that I had cancer, or they would “catch it.” By the day before my third chemo, I was calling to reschedule: My World War II veteran grandpa — my favorite grandparent — had been killed unexpectedly in a farming accident. We drove to the hospital where he’d been life-flighted, and then, after receiving the news that he had passed, drove a couple of hours down to my grandparents’ home to stay with my grandma. While the medical team told me that sticking to my treatment plan was literally a matter of my own life and death, they moved the treatment one day so we could finalize funeral arrangements, pick out flowers and drive a couple of hours back to Lincoln.

Here was Super Kelley saving the day yet again! She always — and I mean always, every time, without fail — gave me exactly what I needed, whether it was an encouraging smile, a warm blanket, a hug, a pat on the hand or a Kleenex box to catch the tsunami of tears that wouldn’t stop shooting from my eyes as I forged ahead with treatment. I had explained that, the day after chemo, I needed to be back on the road to my grandfather’s visitation after getting my Neulasta shot at the hospital. The following day would be his funeral, and Kelley suggested I be pushed around in a wheelchair to conserve my strength.

Super Kelley was nicknamed so quickly by me because she’s so much better than Superwoman — she didn’t just do her job, but she displayed pure caring, compassion and helpfulness by always ensuring that we got all our questions answered and that we were as comfortable as she could possibly make us. Years later, she is still working at Nebraska Hematology-Oncology, and it’s so comforting to see and hug her as I go back for my annual check-ups! After enduring three years of grueling chemotherapy and the devastating total loss of my shoulder-length hair as a young adult, I am now in remission and doing well.

Nominating Kelley is my way of thanking her from the bottom of my heart for all she did and continues to do, not only for me but for so many other cancer patients and families.

Teaching Moment: She always — and I mean always, every time, without fail — gave me exactly what I needed, whether it was an encouraging smile, a warm blanket, a hug, a pat on the hand or a Kleenex box to catch the tsunami of tears that wouldn’t stop shooting from my eyes as I forged ahead with treatment.
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