Finalist Essay: She Held My Hand Across the World and Made Everything Seem Possible

Finalist essay for CURE's 2013 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing.

Cancer enters our lives unbidden and, sometimes, stubbornly refuses to leave.

The journey we take from diagnosis onward is different for everyone. This unpredictable trail is filled with arduous climbs, zip-line descents, and crazy hairpin turns. Having a special nurse to guide you along the way is a gift beyond compare.

I met Julie Hinson, RN, BSN, OCN in November of 2010 when I was referred to Dr. Elizabeth Munro after having developed an unusual vaginal discharge ten years post cervical cancer. Julie’s cheerful demeanor easily drew me in, and I instantly felt I was in very good hands. Over the past couple of years, we have shared some very difficult moments as well as many instances of joy. She can help me see the humor in situations that seem as far from joy as can be imagined. I am so blessed to have gone through the past few months with her at my side.

Though I did not have cancer at that time, Dr. Munro and Julie kept close tabs on me with frequent follow-ups to ensure that all was well.

Julie’s joy was palpable when, in December of 2011, I told them I was moving to Okinawa, Japan to work on one of our U.S. Air Bases. It was to be the adventure of a lifetime. We kept in touch for the first six months of my journey. Weekly updates filled her in on all I was experiencing in a new culture.

I returned to the states for the summer months and, of course, had my routine follow-up exam with Dr. Munro. I had been back on Okinawa just three days when Dr. Munro called to tell me I had tested positive for cancer. I was stunned. Ten years post cervical cancer…it doesn’t typically return. But here it was, and I was half a world away. A check with the Naval Hospital on Okinawa revealed that there were no Gynecologic Oncologists here and that I would need to return to the states for treatment. Julie jumped into action completing the various documents the federal government needed in order to write my travel orders and put me on a flight to Oregon. Julie didn’t hesitate when documents needed to be redone, scanned and sent. She worked so hard on her end to get everything done and get me back there. In the middle of all of that Typhoon Bolaven, a category 5 storm, hit the island of Okinawa. Throughout the storm, Julie was on the phone and email helping me work through necessary documents and assuring me I would soon be on my way.

Upon my arrival in the United States, Julie was there to greet me with a warm hug and lots of her ever present cheerfulness. She had my scans and surgery arranged and knew me well enough to know I like lots of information and for it to be laid out for me to easily access. Dr. Munro works out of two different hospitals in two separate cities. My surgery was to be robotic so was scheduled at the larger facility, not the one where Julie worked. Nevertheless, I wasn’t off her mind. She sent messages to me letting me know she was thinking of and praying for me and that she knew I was in the best hands.

The journey through the months of chemotherapy was traveled with Julie by my side. When side effects seemed insurmountable, Julie was there by phone or e-mail to see me through. On the days that I struggled, though I lived an hour from the hospital, I felt Julie’s presence. Her compassion infused with humor was the perfect prescription.

Upon completion of treatment, it was time to get back to Okinawa and back to work. Julie again spent endless hours completing government documents so that I could receive travel orders for my return. One Friday evening at 5:30, Julie sent me a document that she had spent hours completing. When I received it, I realized it was not the document I needed. I had sent her the wrong document. When Julie learned this she cheerfully asked me to send the correct one and said she would start right in on it. Now, Julie has a young family and is working on her master’s degree. The last thing she needed was a new document at 5:30 on a Friday night. Yet, there was no hesitation or frustration on her part, just her usual cheerfulness.

I have just returned to Okinawa. As it should be, I am adjusting to walking this journey of health without Julie at my side. I am comforted however by knowing she will always be there when I need her to hold my hand across the world.