As anyone who has sat at the bedside of a terminally ill patient knows, those who hold out a hand — literally or figuratively — to help a patient and their loved ones is a hero to them.
Grace Allison, B.S.N., RN, OCN, RN-BC, one of the patient navigators at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), humbly says she’s honored to help her incredible, inspiring patients along their journey fighting the incurable blood cancer.
As anyone who has sat at the bedside of a terminally ill patient knows, those who hold out a hand — literally or figuratively — to help a patient and their loved ones is a hero to them. Grace is one of these heroes to all of her patients as they battle against the complex cancer.
She is frequently the first one patients or family members call in a new medical crisis, and often she is the interpreter who patiently explains a diagnosis and the road ahead. Grace provides all of this, along with kindness and hope, amid the difficulties posed by a rare cancer whose treatment is unique to each patient.
She is described frequently as “a godsend,” “an angel” or “a gem” by patients and families, with most saying they “couldn’t have made it through treatment without her.”
Grace developed extensive expertise in myeloma during her 28 years caring for patients at the pioneering University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Myeloma Center, an early leader in stem cell transplants and life-extending treatment protocols. That’s where Grace, a native of Ireland whose aunt and grandmother both died of blood cancers, developed her passion for helping patients with the rare cancer.
In mid-2020, she joined the MMRF Patient Navigation Center, which offers patients and their families counseling and other services. The care that Grace provides then moved from the bedside to the telephone, informed by all she’d learned and done.
Now Grace offers compassion and a plain-English explanation of what’s happening to her patients, whether they’ve received a new diagnosis, are worried by a relapse after time in remission or are facing difficult decisions.
Multiple myeloma waxes and wanes, so it can be managed for many years as new treatments arrive. Grace stays abreast of each patient’s condition, and when their doctor recommends new treatments or options she helps them understand everything, personalized to their situation.
With a national treatment network at her fingertips, Grace connects patients to the closest myeloma specialist and myeloma center of excellence or to the latest clinical trials of experimental medicines. Then Grace even cuts through the bureaucracy on any paperwork or insurance approvals needed to get the treatment the patient needs.
The stories of exceptional efforts in Grace’s nursing are endless. She recounted a typical patient case that happened a few months ago. Grace was called by a woman whose husband was critically ill and on tube feeding in a Virginia country hospital that was doing little to manage his multiple myeloma. Grace jumped into action to arrange for better treatment, cutting red tape to get him quickly transferred to a specialty center. He’d given his wife what he thought was his final “goodbye” as he was being placed into an ambulance. He was unresponsive throughout the journey but was started on the right treatment immediately upon arrival at the new hospital. His relieved wife soon called, telling Grace he had “pulled back from the brink” and was sitting at the bedside eating.
Gratifying outcomes such as that are why Grace takes on many of her patients as if they were family members, spends all the time they need on calls, then emails more information. She says it’s a luxury to be able to spend so much time explaining complex information to her often overwhelmed patients.
Grace also goes beyond the patient to ensure she knows their support system and talks with family members seeking answers and help. And when a patient nears the end, she prepares them emotionally to make death less frightening and focuses on what is best for the family, such as bringing the patient home from the hospital for their final days.
Few nurses could be more deserving of the 2022 Extraordinary Healer® Award.
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