Compassion for End of Life Is Key for an Oncology Nurse

Extraordinary Healer®, CURE® Extraordinary Healer® Vol. 16, Volume 16,

That first exposure to caring for critically ill patients started an oncology nurse on a journey that created a legacy.

Wendy Austin’s curiosity for understanding all aspects of patient care led her to choose oncology for her final clinical rotation in nursing school. Oncology became her passion for the next 38 years and included stops at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and City of Hope Orange County.

That first exposure to caring for critically ill patients started Wendy on a journey that created a legacy. She has not only changed the lives of patients with cancer but has mentored the next generation of oncology nurses and administrators to be knowledgeable and compassionate in the care they provide to every patient.

Wendy has seen firsthand that the smallest acts of compassion can make the biggest difference not only for a patient but for their family as well. Two examples of Wendy’s dedication to being present for her patients stand out.

Early in her career Wendy developed a long-term primary nursing relationship with one of her patients with head and neck cancer, during which time he became terminally ill and was unable to leave his hospital room. During one of their conversations, her patient expressed his desire to marry his fiancee before he passed away. Wendy, knowing time was running short, helped make that wish a reality by decorating his room, coordinating with the chaplain and even standing in for the best man who couldn’t arrive in time for the ceremony.

Wendy went above and beyond to ensure her patient and his fiancee had everything they needed to celebrate their special day. Being present for someone who is dying takes a special kind of person, and Wendy has always demonstrated her desire to provide healing to patients with cancer.

Another time, Wendy came on shift and found that one of her primary patients with terminal Hodgkin lymphoma had taken a turn for the worst and that the patient’s parents were still an hour and a half away. Without a second thought, Wendy immediately went to her patient’s room and held her patient in her arms until she took her last breath. The look her patient’s parents gave Wendy when they arrived and realized their daughter did not die alone is one Wendy will never forget.

To some this would be a heartbreaking position to be in, but to Wendy it was an honor to provide her patient and family what they needed most in that moment and to be fully present for her patient.

Wendy has dedicated her career to improving the lives of oncology patients through her work at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and now at City of Hope Orange County, where she is orchestrating the build of an ambulatory cancer center and hospital to bring innovative and world-class cancer care to the patients in this community.

This opportunity requires the knowledge and experience Wendy has gained throughout her extensive career as an oncology nurse and administrator, ensuring that every patient knows they are not alone and will receive the best possible care.

I am nominating Wendy Austin for the Extraordinary Healer® Award because of the devotion she has always shown her patients and their families and her passion for ensuring the next generation of oncology nurses and administrators understand that compassion and care for their patients and families are essential.

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