An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Carol Tomek RN, OCN [HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center in Scottsdale, Arizona]
Carol Tomek, RN, OCN and Steven Oliver PHOTO BY BRANDON TIGRETT
Carol Tomek always knew she wanted to be an oncology nurse. She graduated nursing school and immediately went to work on an oncology unit in 1992 in South Dakota. Carol told me that she went into oncology nursing at the beginning “to make a difference,” and she quickly learned that the nicest people can have cancer. They share their lives … their stories … their emotions, with hardly a thought of themselves.
I first met Carol at HonorHealth Osborn Hospital early in October 2015, after my daughter Abby underwent a craniotomy for metastatic breast cancer. Carol moved to Phoenix and began working at HonorHealth in 1998, and now she has 23 years of oncology nursing experience. She told me she is truly proud and happy to be able to help patients through their journey and feels as if she is rewarded every day.
Abby was found to have a rare metastasis called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, which is fatal. Her time on earth was going to be short. We hoped to get her home by Thanksgiving, but that was not the case. She never came home. She passed away on November 10th, just three weeks after her 37th birthday. Carol took care of Abby four days a week for Abby’s entire six-week hospital stay, and she often called on her days off to check on Abby. On several occasions, Abby was transferred back to the ICU, and Carol always went to check on her progress. She was the most compassionate, kind, caring and attentive nurse to Abby and our entire family.
Carol made sure that Abby had her hair washed and combed every few days because Abby was so happy to have hair grow back after undergoing chemotherapy several months prior. Carol could just sense that feeling in Abby. After Abby completed 10 rounds of full-brain radiation, she started to lose her hair again. Carol stayed one night on her own time to cut Abby’s hair short so that the hair loss would not be so devastating. I remember Abby giving the peace sign after her short haircut.
She made sure that Abby got dressed in her own pajamas whenever possible so she did not have to wear a hospital gown. There was never a moment that Carol was too busy to speak with any of us. She carefully explained everything that was going on to Abby and our family. When it was time to check on her other patients, she always told Abby that she would be back shortly. My daughter of course told her, “You don’t have to hurry back. I know other people besides me are sick.”
Carol comforted us emotionally with kind words and always asked if we had any questions. She also comforted us with hugs whenever she saw one of us weeping. There were several shifts that she stayed after clocking out, just to talk with and comfort Abby and my family. She used to pull my sister aside to ask how she was doing, knowing that she also was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She always made sure that I or her husband Matt had everything we needed before she left for the night, as we often took turns spending all night with Abby so that my wife Cathy could watch their four-year-old son Carter. You see, Abby was afraid and did not want to be left alone without family at night.
In addition, Carol was so patient with Abby, who had a very difficult time taking pills and eating. She would sit in the room with her and wait patiently for her to take even one bite of food or a sip of water to swallow her pills, knowing full well that Abby likely would become nauseated and need help. She just tried to always be there for Abby and to make her feel as comfortable and normal as possible, even though she was so very sick.
There really are no words to describe Carol. She was Abby’s and my family’s angel on earth, and I am confident that she, out of all of the nurses, was meant to take care of my daughter. She will hold a special place in our hearts forever. She not only gave to all of us from her knowledge and expertise in oncology nursing, she gave from her heart as a compassionate human being.
Carol went above and beyond her duties as an oncology nurse, yet in a very professional way. Her patients are so very fortunate to have a nurse like her. She gave her whole self to Abby and all of us, and we will never forget it. And I know she does this for each and every one of her patients! Thank you, Carol, for being there for us in this sad time of our lives. You made the journey lighter for our entire family, even though you knew as an oncology nurse how heavy it was.