Feeling Safe in Rhonda's Cancer Refuge

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 9, Volume 9, Issue 1

An Extraordinary Healers essay honoring Rhonda Koot, RN, OCN [Pacific Cancer Care in Salinas, California]

Rhonda Koot, RN, OCN (left) with Mary Lou Mazzone - PHOTO BY HEATHER AVRECH

Rhonda Koot is an extraordinary oncology nurse working at two or three locations on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Her nursing skills, as expected, are excellent. What has been extraordinary, for my caregiver Joe and me, is that she personally knows her patients: she makes it a point to know what we like, what we do, what we worry about and how we feel. She knows the doubts and fears that lurk deep inside her patients and their families going through cancer, radiation and chemotherapy.

During the four-hour weekly chemo treatments, we observed her multitasking while treating five or more patients, as the IV timers went off throughout this balancing act. She made sure each of us got special attention while providing gentle care and comfort that we all needed. She was taking care of patients, caregivers, family and friends, and dealing with our emotional and well as physical pain. In spite of her main duties, she also made sure other needs were being met. Were we cold and needed a blanket? Need to use the bathroom? Want something to eat or drink?

She provided helpful educational materials on nutrition, treatment side effects, explanation of lab results and what they meant. Although the doctor thoroughly went over the lab results with us, Rhonda explained them in a way we could fully understand, and made us feel secure that the negative results were not going to stay that way, and that we were going to get past them. She always made sure we had a copy of lab results, our next appointment date, and whether we needed other tests before we came back for our next appointment.

Rhonda was very sympathetic about how horrible I felt when I lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. She encouraged me to attend a wonderful class called, “Look Good, Feel Better” that was sponsored by the American Cancer Society. At first I didn’t want to go because I didn’t have any eyelashes to put mascara on, but she encouraged me to go anyway. The class turned out to be the best therapy I could get for myself.

She called me at home to see if she could share my positive experience with her other patients, and of course I said yes. She would always remind us to wear sun block and skin lotion and other helpful healthy hints. She noticed and remembered the many changes all of us were going through and would follow up with each of our concerns.

Rhonda boosted our morale and encouraged us to share our coping methods. She asked me if I would teach my co-chemo buddies how I tied my head scarf into a turban. It was one of the first times I smiled and laughed with the other ladies and actually enjoyed myself at chemo class. It made me feel like I was not alone in my chemo nightmare.

Rhonda provided care and services above and beyond her role as an oncology nurse as she personalized the care by getting to know us at a deeper level. For instance, she remembered that my college-age granddaughter who was 2000 miles away was coming home for Christmas. Rhonda shared the joys we felt. She also knew that Joe and I enjoyed watching movies, so she would ask, with genuine interest, to tell her about the latest movie we watched.

During my most recent IV treatment, my caregiver Joe received a phone call from his doctor telling him that after being in remission for five years, his cancer had returned. We didn’t say anything about it, but Rhonda could see in our disappointed faces that something was wrong. She hugged us both and asked if we were okay. We told her about the phone call, and she was deeply touched and gave us encouragement and hope to tackle this, assuring us that we can beat cancer again.

Rhonda really and truly cares about all those going through cancer, not just the patient. We feel safe, hopeful and secure by being in “Rhonda’s Refuge.”