An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring SANDRA TERRAZZINO, APRN, M.S.N., FNP-BC, AOCNP [HEMATOLOGY ONCOLOGY CLINIC, BROOKE ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, FORT SAM HOUSTON, TEXAS]
D.S. and Sandra Terrazzino, APRN, M.S.N., FNP-BC, AOCNP PHOTOS BY SADA LEWIS
I first met Sandy Terrazzino as a newly diagnosed patient with breast cancer — in shock from the news of my diagnosis, practically immobile from fear, experiencing spontaneous bouts of deep-throated crying, and feeling a childlike helplessness in facing “The Big C.” I was, as they say, A Mess.
This was significantly different from the professional military me, a friendly, self-reliant, resourceful pioneer. As the first woman allowed to take on several of the jobs I’d held in my military career, I had faced many challenges and had accomplished many tough goals. I was successful enough to rise to become a lieutenant colonel. I had also served in some tropical third-world countries, under situations that required a degree of toughness and sense of adventure. That was when the only contact with home were weekly letters and rare phone calls made through amateur HAM radio operators around the world. But at that moment, my normally optimistic, adventurous self was gone.
At my first appointment with Sandy, she gently introduced herself and gave me a smile that at once conveyed a message of welcome, understanding and optimism that “we’re going to get through this together.” She said she was there to help me through the process I was entering. I wasn’t so sure that anyone could help, but Sandy drew me in and kept me close throughout the ordeals of chemotherapy, radiation and beyond. When she talked with me, it was as though I was the only patient on her schedule that day. She treated our conversations, and even my silliest questions, as worthy of her best attention and efforts. She knew how to convey compassion just by looking into peoples’ eyes.
Over the next five years, I grew to know and appreciate what a bright star Sandy is to not only me, but to over 40 other “sister patients,” and to many wonderful care providers at BAMC. So, my nomination of Sandy for this award is enthusiastic and heartfelt.
I have not only relied on Sandy for assistance and guidance during my health journey, I have looked to Sandy’s leadership, inspiration and extensive counsel as I assisted other “sister patients.” Sandy was continually a beacon of hope and a source of gentle reassurance as they solved problems, changed remedies and vented. She has consistently been well informed and versatile, yet a firm ally in the weekly battles we face. Sandy has also been a comfort, a guide and an inspiration to her patients. She tirelessly developed a training program for patients facing chemo, and taught me to manage the different stages my body goes through after each chemo session. I’m certain that helped save my life when my body reacted unexpectedly to my first chemotherapy session. Because of Sandy’s training, I knew what to do, rather than fearfully stay home “waiting things out.” I quickly learned to trust and rely on her extensive knowledge about chemo drugs, my body’s reactions and how best to care for myself during the trying times.
Her open-minded pursuit of better ways of doing things also helped when, through her personal research of the medical literature, she found studies on eliminating germs from fresh produce. I am still struck by her work and her finding a simple solution to my challenge of home preparation of the fresh fruits and vegetables I really wanted. As a result, I could have the diet I preferred, and my risk of infection or other complications, and fear of what might happen to me, were significantly reduced.
Her professional knowledge and willingness to share doesn’t stop there. Sandy opened a “Cancer Library for Patients,” and keeps it stocked with very useful cancer-related literature. She also founded and now co-hosts monthly cancer support and education meetings, in which she expertly fields a wide variety of questions we bring. Questions have ranged from various reactions to medications, plastic surgery options, dressing options and the stories behind the latest research in the news.
It is hard to bring up an oncology-related topic in the hematology/oncology field that is new to Sandy. She seems to pay close attention to what’s happening, including what’s on the horizon. On the rare occasion we bring her something new, Sandy has shown to be a tireless researcher. Frequently, she brings us answers at later meetings, along with relevant information on which we can ponder. Sandy has proven to be not only a fine resource for information, she is also an important ally in problem solving, whether it be getting access to a provider or advising the “sister patients” on assembling a surprise package for one of our doctors during his deployment to Afghanistan.
Sandy is also highly regarded among other health care providers. One example is my doctor’s response to my concerns about possibly losing Sandy for a while. At that time, Congress was unable to complete a Department of Defense budget, so there was much discussion about mandatory time off without pay for civilian employees. My doctor, who was also the chief of the clinic, quickly responded, saying, in effect, “I know, she’s really good. We are going to do our best to not lose Sandy … she’s too valuable.”
What a blessing Sandy is to all who have the good fortune of coming under her wings. My words are paltry compared with the inspiration she provides, and the lift she gives patient and professional alike. Sandy is the master of the well-timed hug, and of the soulful look into your eyes. Respected and appreciated by fellow health care professionals and the many patients lucky to know her touch, Sandy Terrazzino is a superb nominee for this award.