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An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Kim Hess, NP [New Bern Cancer Care in New Bern, North Carolina]
Kim Hess is a nurse practitioner specializing in oncology. She works with patients receiving treatment and takes care of patient needs firsthand — often patients with financial needs and emotional and physical obstacles that could impede their healing. Battling cancer is hard work that strains the body, mind and spirit. Kim is a humble, loving and caring woman, committed to improving the lives of patients and their caregivers.
While meeting with several patients, a discussion of these needs developed, and an idea began to take form. How could they accomplish meeting these needs? What would the cost be? Under Kim’s direction, the group began months of planning and fundraising, and in 2013, a nonprofit organization, Coastal Carolina Health Care, was formed. Under this nonprofit group, the “Journey of Hope” became the major arm of assistance for patients with cancer in the area. The dream was taking form.
Walking into New Bern Cancer Care in the fall of 2013 was an overwhelming experience. My husband Bill and I were prepared to hear the dreaded cancer diagnosis for him. We were greeted by the friendly receptionist, and then we were escorted back to the lab technician, who did her job with reassuring words and competence. We met our doctor’s nurse, who recorded all of the pertinent information, and after a short wait the doctor entered the examining room. More blood tests would be required to determine the exact type of leukemia that Bill had, and then a discussion of treatment plans would take place.
Waiting for confirmation of the initial diagnosis seemed endless. For several weeks we felt as if we were living without feeling. A blinding gauze of unreality surrounded our world, not allowing us to look forward. And we were also very hesitant to live with this new reality. After all of the tests were reviewed, it was decided to be conservative and wait to see what the next blood tests would show.
We were just beginning to believe that Dr. Gorman’s suggestion that Bill would die with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), but not from it, when we learned that Bill would begin the first of six chemo treatments in November 2014 — 12 months after his diagnosis!
We got to know the entire staff as blood tests preceded and followed each treatment and doctor’s visit. During the week after each treatment, Kim Hess would check Bill’s vitals and chat to see how things were going. By January, the fatigue resulting from the treatment was becoming mentally debilitating for my type A personality husband. Kim saw this and suggested that we attend an exercise program sponsored by Journey of Hope for cancer patients and their caregivers. Bill was reluctant but gave into my encouragement, and we went the next Saturday. Our lives were changed that day.
We learned that Journey of Hope provides programs that support patients as they are being treated. Services include providing nutritional supplements, assistance with drug costs, transportation to treatments, and an exercise program led by physical therapists that strengthens the patient and improves balance and stamina. This is also an opportunity for patients and caregivers to share experiences and encourage one another. Kim has put together an outstanding group of professionals and volunteers to provide services and raise the funds necessary to support the programs.
My reluctant husband became totally involved after finding that his leg pain (which he had not disclosed to me) was relieved after that first session.
Several weeks after beginning this program, Bill spoke with the owners of the health club in our community about Journey of Hope and the “Fit for Life” exercise program. They were anxious to start a program, and now have 12 to 15 people attending on Wednesdays. Not everyone can make the 45-minute trip to the Saturday program, and this second exercise opportunity more than doubles the number of patients being serviced.
The organization sponsors a 5k run/1k walk, “Colors for Cancer” and other events for raising funds to assist with local patients’ needs. Other programs are the “Laugh at Cancer” entertainment program and an art therapy program with a local ceramics gallery, where ceramic tiles are painted by anyone wishing to participate. These tiles can be in memory or in honor of patients with cancer, and will become a part of a Memory Wall in the New Bern Cancer Care office. A portion of the fee charged by the gallery for materials and kiln firing is given to Journey of Hope. At other events, local supermarkets supply dessert and coffee. These are just a few examples of the wonderful support that the business community provides.
And these are all possible through the tireless efforts of Kim and others like her. She has had a lasting impact not only on the patients of the oncology practice, but on the many, many people she may never even meet. Her commitment to improving the lives of patients with cancer and their families is an inspiration to all who know of her work.
One aspect of recovering from a life-threatening disease is to be able to look beyond your immediate circumstances, and to be relevant in your surroundings. Journey of Hope provides opportunities for physical healing, as well as healing for the mind and spirit.
Kim supports patients during their treatment of the disease with compassion and medical expertise, and then goes over and above by working endlessly to support and expand Journey of Hope. The newest addition to the program is a “No Smoking” program for the schools in the area. Who can imagine how many lives will be touched by this over the coming years?
The dream that Kim had years ago is now a reality, and is impacting our area in so many more ways than she and the organizing volunteers could have imagined. Patients and caregivers are given an opportunity to pay forward the wonderful gift of being contributors to a cause that enables us to think of others. What a very special gift it is to not be caught up with negative thoughts, but rather in the joy of giving to others.
There probably isn’t any study that can quantify that a body can be healed more completely by helping others. We just know that Kim has given us that gift through the Journey of Hope