An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring MELISSA A. COCHRAN, M.S., NP [STEM CELL TRANSPLANT NURSE, DANA-FARBER CANCER INSTITUTE, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS]
Melissa A. Cochran, M.S., NP, and Jennifer Littke - PHOTOS BY STEPH STEVENS
LIKE SO MANY PEOPLE, cancer caught me totally off guard. I was healthy, working full-time, and suddenly my life changed dramatically. In February 2012, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. My initial treatment included intensive chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem cell transplant (SCT), along with maintenance chemotherapy; 14 months later I relapsed. Now what? My multiple myeloma oncologist referred me to a transplant specialist; it turned out I was a good candidate for an allogeneic SCT, and by the grace of God a donor match was found. That’s when my relationship with Melissa Cochran began.
Melissa practices oncology nursing at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; she is truly an asset and valuable member of the stem cell transplant team. She is upbeat, dedicated, caring and highly skilled. She always, always, always enters the patient examining room with a smile. No matter how I feel the day of my appointment, I can’t help but smile back. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious.
Melissa’s calm and even-tempered manner has been a great comfort to me. For example, when my allogeneic transplant was delayed due to the onset of a cold, I was beside myself. Physically and emotionally, I was so ready to get the transplant behind me and move forward. Melissa sensed my anxiety, and she listened to my concerns and helped alleviate my fears. I was better able to cope with this setback because of her outstanding ability to connect with her patients. Melissa cares for a considerable number of patients, some who are critically ill or in high-stress situations. Her acts of kindness, no matter how small, have made a huge difference in my recovery.
I remember my first trip outside of the Boston area, 14 months post-transplant. I traveled by airplane to visit my brother, whom I had not seen in over a year. On the second day of my trip, I developed a skin rash. After a few emails and a phone call, it turned out I needed a prescription called in to the local pharmacy. Melissa handled the situation with ease. To many, this may sound like a small, seemingly insignificant task. Others might think it is just one of her many job responsibilities. But to me, her assistance was so much more. The sooner I started taking the medication, the more quickly I could begin to feel better and enjoy the remainder of my holiday.
One of the many challenging aspects of a cancer experience is dealing with being put in the position of waiting — for an appointment, a diagnosis or biopsy results. Melissa’s vast experience in the field of oncology gives her great insight into both the medical aspects of cancer as well as the emotional impact. She understands how stressful waiting can be, and her patience is endless. She skillfully tailors patient-to-health care provider communication by taking complex medical information and explaining it in a way that I can understand and can relate to my current situation. If I have a question about test results after my visit, or a new symptom presents itself between appointments, I can trust Melissa to get back to me in a timely manner. She really gets the whole cancer thing.
I am two years post-transplant, and my life is returning to a new normal both physically and emotionally. I am in a much better place than I was four-and-a-half years ago. It hasn’t been an easy trek, but I’ve met some wonderful people along the way, and I attribute my improved health to the dynamic support system I have. My family and friends have been there for me throughout treatment, and they continue to provide me with the courage, strength and hope I need to push ahead. I am also blessed and truly grateful to all the doctors, nurses and staff who have helped me through this journey.
Melissa has been a vital member of my support network and my health care team. She goes above and beyond in all aspects of her profession. Thank you again, Melissa, for making a difference in my life. You are truly the best.