Always Ready to Volunteer

April 15, 2019

The nomination essay for CURE® Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing finalist, Barbara Bittner, RN, OCN. Written by Dianne Rohald, AdventHealth Cancer Institute and Charlene’s Dream.

There are certain nurses who are universally beloved by their peers. They are usually modest and self-effacing and are always offering to pitch in or cover your patients if you need them.

They are great nurses who truly care about their patients and coworkers. You know that they will always be there for you. If you need support for a new project that will help patients, they will sign up. They quietly always go the extra mile. They aren’t looking for parades, and they don’t announce everything to the world. They quietly make a difference every day. They do things because they are the right things to do. Barbara “Barb” Bittner, RN, OCN, is that nurse: the total team player.

When my colleagues and I first met Barb, she was a great oncology nurse navigator at one of our sister hospitals, and she had just taken a job as a breast cancer nurse navigator at the “mothership” hospital of our region. Tragically, one week before starting her job here, she lost one of her beloved sons in an accident. We only knew this because our nurse manager told us. When Barb started, you never would have known anything was wrong. Even in her personal grief, she dug down deep to always make sure that her patients with cancer had her full attention and that their care was the most important thing that day. When I think of her strength and fortitude at that time, it inspires me. It is also one of the reasons she so easily empathizes with her patients.

If you Google “team player,” you will find descriptions such as the following: someone who adapts quickly to new situations, avoids office politics, focuses on team goals, appreciates others’ work styles and celebrates peers’ successes. These all perfectly describe Barb.

From left: Dianne Rohald and Barbara Bittner, RN, OCNPHOTOS BY KELLY ROBINSON

When we — a group of volunteer oncology nurses and staff members — started our community-based cancer resource center, Charlene’s Dream, in 2015, our goal was to close some of the gaps in education and care that we were seeing in our community of patients with cancer. In the Daytona area, many patients are treated at different practices. We found that sometimes those with cancer were not getting enough information to help them cope with their disease effectively, and we wanted to provide them with more information and support.

The word went out among us, but when we first started this support center, we asked: “Can we do this?” Barb was one of the first to respond: “I’m in.” She creatively ran the arts therapy group every month for our first year. She fully supported the premise that women who may not feel like opening up in a regular support group might suddenly feel like chatting when they are

working on a craft project. The following year, she went on to run a satellite monthly support group for patients in a neighboring town.

Today, she continues her much-valued work during her “real job” as an excellent nurse oncology navigator at AdventHealth New Smyrna Beach. Her patients are always so grateful for her help in navigating the health care system. For instance, a recent elderly oncology patient needed to come in to the clinic ASAP for treatment of his cancer. The problem was that his house was so infested with bedbugs that having him in the center couldn’t be risked. Barb applied for every grant imaginable until she was able to coordinate resources and get his home treated for the infestation so he could be cleared to come to the clinic for his cancer treatments.

Before she started the satellite support group in her beach town, she was known to drive home after work and then drive another 25 miles to get a patient who needed a support group to come to our monthly meetings. I am also proud to share that she was the president of our local East Central Florida Oncology Nursing Society chapter in 2017.

I could go on and on with examples, but the bottom line is that we are so grateful that Barb chose our team to join. She is a true example of an outstanding oncology nurse.


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