Finding a Gem in the Midst of a Cancer Diagnosis

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

An Extraordinary Healer article honoring Jackie Wiegand, RN [Northstar Health System in Iron River, Michigan]

Jackie Wiegand, RN (left) with LaVerne Smith - PHOTO BY MELANIE BESS

I live in a very rural part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This greatly impacts our access to medical care when compared with an urban area. However, I have found the GEM of healthcare in Jackie Wiegand. One could search near and far and never find one better!

In August 2012, life was good. I was happy and living my passion as a paramedic with our rural EMS service. Then the bottom fell out. I experienced persistent abdominal pain, which I thought was just stubborn constipation. Having worked in medicine for many years, my first response was to grin and bear it and bury my head. Eventually, I found my way to the local Emergency Department. After some tests, I heard the ominous words: “You have a mass.” My world changed forever.

Plagued by the unknown, but pretty certain that I had the “Big C,” I was given an appointment with a specialist, who was located about two-and-a-half hours from my home. However, this took some time to arrange, and the waiting was unbearable. My mind raced to the worst-case scenario. Our family had still not recovered from the loss of a family member to breast cancer a few years before. How could I tell them it was happening to us again? I did not know where to turn. The more I read, the more my head spun.

Then, I remembered Jackie Wiegand. Jackie and I had worked in the ER together for many years. I remembered how caring she always was. I also remembered that now she worked in our Outpatient Department with our oncology and wound care patients.

So, I called her. I was apprehensive at first, trying to form the words to tell her what was on my mind and what my fears were. Putting it into words made it all the more real and ominous. But, my apprehension was unnecessary. Speaking with Jackie was immediately calming and comforting.

The worst part of this stage of diagnosis is fear of the unknown. Jackie was able to clearly and precisely answer all of my questions to dissipate my fears. She knew I was scared. She knew about our family’s loss. She said, “I am here for you. Call me any time. Is there anything I can do?” Just hearing those words made a world of difference. And, I knew she meant them.

Jackie offered advice on which port to get, what side effects to anticipate if chemotherapy was indicated and how to handle them. She offered rides if needed. She said we could talk any time, and we did.

Following surgery, my initial pathology report did not agree with what the surgeon had found. This made my staging questionable and impacted decisions regarding chemotherapy and other treatment options. Again, Jackie was my solace. She helped me arrive at the decision to seek a second opinion, and this led to the correct path for treatment.

On my first day of chemotherapy, Jackie was the first nurse to greet me in the department, with her amazing smile. She was the primary care provider for the patients getting chemotherapy, as well as overseeing the oncology team. And, she handled it all excellently.

During my treatment I experienced an anaphylactic reaction. Jackie and her well-trained team immediately recognized that I was in distress, stopped my medication, and gave me the appropriate allergic reaction medications. Jackie went out of her way to ensure that I was safe, stable and comfortable. I was at this treatment alone, and Jackie made this very frightening experience one that I can now look back on with a smile.

Throughout the time of my chemotherapy treatment, I continued to observe Jackie always providing patient and excellent care. She was the jack of all trades and the go-to person for the difficult IV starts or port access.

I can recall one patient, my neighbor. He had undergone nearly 100 chemotherapy treatments. Over time, his ports had all gone bad and his vascular access was very poor. Each time he came in for therapy, he required a new peripheral access. This process made him a bit impatient and cantankerous. Then, he discovered the GEM — Jackie Wiegand, RN. Each time he made a special request, Jackie met that request. She greeted him cheerfully with a smile, and quickly and competently gained the access he needed. In the 20 years that this man was my neighbor, Jackie is one of the few people I’ve known who could make him smile.

All of this is not new for Jackie. It is her history. In 2010, Jackie received the Employee of the Quarter Award for her commitment to patient care, which extended beyond the hospital walls. She had responded to a motorcycle injury, where she kept a patient warm and calm until EMS arrived to assume care. When coworkers have become ill at work, Jackie has been known to care for them or pick up extra shifts. Jackie never stops. She gives 150% to everything she does. So it was no surprise that the quarterly award was followed with further recognition. In 2011, Jackie was named as our Employee of the Year. It was more than deserved.

And my admiration for Jackie does not end there. When the need was identified for a cancer support group in our area, Jackie quickly rose to the task involved in getting it started. The NorthSTAR Cancer Support Group began in August 2013, providing support to cancer patients, their families, caregivers and the community in whatever ways are needed.

Each month, Jackie facilitates the group discussion. She always offers her support, both professionally and personally. Through her assistance, the group has had the benefit of first-hand information from an occupational therapist and dietician. The group has gained information on dealing with cancer, chemotherapy and survival. Jackie also ensures that everyone who attends has some delicious treats to enjoy. She recognizes that dealing with cancer affects the whole person, as well as his or her family, friends and the community.

Jackie actively worked with the NorthSTAR Cancer Support Group to bring the first “Relay for Life” to Iron County, Michigan, in June 2015. In addition, Jackie is actively involved in her local church group and with the “Iron County 100+ Women Who Care.” And on top of all of this, Jackie is a wife, mother, grandmother and accomplished equestrian.

Being diagnosed with cancer has forever changed my life, and for the most part, I can’t say that the change was necessarily for the better. BUT, one of the most positive things it has brought is this new closeness with a woman I have known for so many years — and a greater appreciation for all that she does for her patients and our small community.

Since my diagnosis, I have gotten to know some amazing individuals who have struggled through the cancer journey. Some have survived and some have not, but they have all had their burden eased by having Jackie Wiegand as their caregiver, and, more important, their new-found friend. She is the complete package!