At a virtual event Sept. 17, CURE® also named Elizabeth Farrat, B.S.N., RN, CCRN-K, the winner of its first-ever Finest Hour Award for selfless achievements in care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A drive to not only take care of others but to make sure they feel emotionally supported is what distinguishes two contest winners and two finalists recognized during CURE® magazine’s 2020 Extraordinary Healer celebration.
For making a special effort to ease the spirits of people caring for loved ones with cancer, Christie Santure, B.S.N., RN, OCN, was named the winner of CURE Media Group’s 2020 Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing, which honors nurses for exceptional efforts in the cancer community.
And for her contributions both at work and at home during the emergence of COVID-19, Elizabeth “Liz” Farrat, B.S.N., RN, CCRN-K, received CURE®’s first-ever Finest Hour Award, recognizing the selfless achievements of an extraordinary nurse providing care during the pandemic.
In essays by patients, colleagues or family members, Santure, two finalists and 47 other Extraordinary Healer nominees, along with Farrat and 38 others nominated for the Finest Hour Award, were cited for going above and beyond the line of duty by offering life-changing compassion, expertise and helpfulness. The awards were given Sept. 17 during a virtual celebration held in conjunction with the ONS Bridge™ Virtual Conference hosted by the Oncology Nursing Society.
Rita Wilson, an actress, producer, singer/songwriter and survivor of both breast cancer and COVID-19, served as the event’s keynote speaker.
Santure, a nurse for 40 years who serves as an infusion nurse at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh, was heralded for launching Caring for the Caregiver, a support group for people caring for loved ones undergoing cancer treatment. She offers sessions twice a month at the cancer center and is working with leadership to start the program at other UPMC locations.
Farrat works as a perioperative nurse liaison in the operating room at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in New York City; previously, she worked in the institution’s intensive care unit (ICU). During the COVID-19 surge, Farrat was redeployed to the ICU to care for patients who were critically ill with the virus. She helped implement real-time, critical-care training of step-down registered nurses so they were able to provide ICU care, quarantining from her husband and two children so she could do that work.
Finalists for the Extraordinary Healer Award were Vicki Dodson, B.S.N., RN, OCN, an oncology nurse navigator at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, and Maria Rodriguez, B.S.N., RN, a nurse navigator at the cancer center at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Each of these nurses has demonstrated incredible compassion, expertise and helpfulness in caring for their patients,” said Michael J. Hennessy Jr., president and CEO of MJH Life Sciences, parent company of CURE Media Group. “They have gone above and beyond their call of duty during this difficult time, and we look forward to shining a light on them for their tremendous efforts.”
He also mentioned Kathy LaTour, a co-founder of CURE® who died recently after having survived breast cancer for decades, and his mother, Patti Hennessy, who died in January after living with ovarian and breast cancers for nine years. “Because of the interaction they had with you guys, it makes this event so special to me and to CURE®,” he told the audience. “You show up with a smile on your face and put (patients) at ease, and because of that I want to thank each one of you.”
Offering a Sense of Calm
Rita Wilson, known for her roles in television shows including “The Good Wife” and movies including “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Jingle All the Way,” was teary-eyed when talking about nurses in an interview shown during the Extraordinary Healer celebration.
A survivor of breast cancer who was treated with bilateral mastectomy, Wilson said that nurses “are there for you… (They are) the ones that are at your bedside, the ones that are helping you take a shower. They're the ones that are holding your hands literally and metaphorically, and I’m so thankful.”
Nurses “offer a sense of calm and a sense of normalcy when things are the scariest that they'll ever be,” she continued. “And that sense of calm translates to family members. It translates to the people in your room. It calms them down in a way, and it calms you down. …And I didn't take that for granted for one second.”
Wilson added that the nurses she met, including during her recovery from COVID-19 in Australia, had a knack for finding humor amid distress.
“I don't know if it's because they're dealing with illness…that maybe they are gifted with a great sense of humor, but every nurse I've ever met is pretty funny,” she said. “I had great long discussions with a number of my nurses, and one in Australia was an amazing artist. …She showed me her work, and we were able to share some things, because I like to do watercolor. You develop friendships with your nurses. …They're human beings and they're good people, and I feel like any one of those people could have been a friend.”
To the nurses attending the Extraordinary Healer event, she expressed her gratitude.
“You're so appreciated,” she said, “so appreciated by the patient, the family members, the people around you. …You understand how truly important it is that you make patients feel so seen, and we appreciate that so much, because (we’re) usually scared. And when a nurse comes in and treats you like you're normal for those brief moments in the office, your anxiety is lifted, and you feel OK. So, I hope that you would never underestimate the importance of that human connection and that contact that you give patients when you're seeing them.”
Following Their Passion
Santure, Farrat, Dodson and Rodriguez — all nominated by colleagues — joined more than 1,000 nurses nominated since the inception of the Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing in 2007. Finalists and essayists honored have included men and women, adults and children, representing a variety of cancer centers and hospitals in a host of states.
In her essay, Lynne O’Connor, M.S.N., RN., of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hillman Cancer Center, shared words about Santure.
“Time and time again, she noticed that caregivers did not have the tools to take care of themselves while caring for the patient,” O’Connor wrote. “They often told her that they didn’t receive enough support and were unable to take care of themselves because they were so worried about their loved one.”
O’Connor quoted a caregiver who had benefited from Santure’s support program. “Thank God that Christie came along and reached out with this group,” the caregiver wrote. “Putting together Caring for the Caregiver wasn’t mandatory in her everyday job, but it was necessary for us. Christie saw us walking in numbers through hospitals, doing everything for our loved ones and nothing for ourselves. She understood we were tired/empty/confused and decided we needed help, too. …I can tell you without reservation that had Christie not started this group and thrown the doors open to everyone like me, I would be in a dark place, maybe not able to help my wife and certainly not able to help myself.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Santure has continued to run the sessions, but via Zoom, and has even seen new members join, she told CURE® in an interview broadcast during the event. “I get around to the patients and let them know to tell their loved one that we are here to support them, and it’s been a great thing,” she says, “ although it’s not the same when I can’t give a hug at the end of each session. As oncology nurses, we love our hugs.”
Farrat was nominated by colleague and friend Evangelina “Rose” SantaTeresa, CCRN, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, to whom she opened her home while working on the COVID-19 unit so the two could self-quarantine together.
In teaching nurses to care for those affected by COVID-19, “Liz was able to communicate the importance of connecting with each patient,” SantaTeresa wrote. “She provided personal grooming items to make the patients who were sedated, intubated or on breathing tubes feel alive, although many were to die or become ventilator-dependent. She purchased razors, shaving cream and beard oil and created comfort. Liz taught the importance of recognizing that each patient requires dignity throughout all procedures.”
In addition, “On her off days, (Farrat) prepared meals for her neighbor who had lost his job and whose family tested positive for COVID-19,” SantaTeresa wrote. “She also prepared meals for other nurses who needed to feel love after a 12-hour shift. Liz’s energy is one of love, and all who came in contact with her could feel it daily.”
Dodson, too, goes beyond the confines of her job to help people, both in the hospital and outside it, according to her nominator, Laurie Loe, RN, OCN, of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. Loe wrote that Dodson has arranged several bedside weddings for dying patients, consistently provides information and reassurance that put patients’ and family members’ minds at ease and was quick to jump in as the facilitator of a cancer support group that otherwise would have dissolved. “That meant committing to five meetings a month, which she did without hesitation,” Loe wrote, adding that Dodson volunteers with the Oncology Nursing Society and is a Boy Scout leader who once led her troop in cleaning the yard of a man with cancer who was unable to do it himself.
“She has a passion for (acute myeloid leukemia) patients,” Loe told CURE® in an interview. “She takes care on a personal level. After their treatments, she keeps in touch with patients. She keeps them on her Christmas list. They come back to visit. That’s the person she is.”
Laura Brinkley, B.S.N., RN-BC, OCN, of Temple University Hospital, praised her nominee, Rodriguez, for making patients feel recognized and understood. Rodriguez created programs that made Hispanic patients feel included, such as the center’s Feliz Navidad celebration, and even became certified in Spanish-language interpretation to make sure she could help facilitate their communication with their care teams. “What makes Maria different is that she looks beyond your diagnosis and treats you like a human being,” Brinkley wrote. “Great nurses heal the sick, soothe the spirit and treat illness. Maria also honors what makes you an individual.”
Rodriguez told CURE® that not speaking English makes patients so anxious they tend to say yes to everything, even though they don’t understand what they’re being told. “That disparity alone I (wouldn’t be able to) deal with, so I put myself in their shoes and said, ‘They need someone,’” Rodriguez explained. “Now, they know they can ask for (me) and (I’m) going to explain in their language, and that hard expression in their face just softens up.”
She suggested that, “If nurses out there know a little bit of Spanish, don’t be afraid of using it wrong. The patient will understand it, and it will link you with that patient forever.”
Making Recognition Possible
Emceed by CURE® Editorial Director Kristie L. Kahl, the event was sponsored by Bristol Myers Squibb and Janssen Oncology.
Mary Coffey, senior director of worldwide scientific content and U.S. medical capabilities at Bristol Myers Squibb, told the audience how vividly she remembers receiving a diagnosis of cancer in 2016 — as well as the three nurses who helped her the most. She recalls their empathy, their anticipation of her needs, their unrushed answering of her questions and their presence through her infusions, fatigue, dehydration, gastrointestinal ulceration and nausea.
“What you do every day transforms the care of each and every patient, whether they’ve just heard about their diagnosis, it’s their first day of chemo, they’re ringing the bell after treatment or making a survivorship visit,” Coffey said. “At Bristol Myers Squibb, we work together for patients — it’s at the heart of everything we do. We know nurses are at the heart of each patient’s care team. You impact our care. You treat us how we need and want to be treated, no matter who we are. As a Bristol Myers Squibb team member, I can’t thank you enough for your service, compassion and the important work you do for patients. As a pharmacist, I thank you for the collaboration and expertise you bring every day. As a patient, I thank you for being the parachute, the comforting hug and the compassionate heart that got me and all of us through it.”
Pearl Pugh, vice president and global commercial leader for rheumatology and dermatology, spoke on behalf of Janssen, which she noted is a part of Johnson & Johnson that develops medicines “to treat the toughest kinds of cancer.”
“We understand the critical role of the oncology nurse to the care of patients and support of caregivers, and we’re proud to sponsor Extraordinary Healer, developed by CURE Media Group,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see your work recognized, and we extend our heartfelt congratulations to those being honored today. Congratulations…to all our oncology nurses out there for all the work you do daily to support patients with cancer.”