From One Nurse to Another: Lessons from My Little Sister

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

An Extraordinary Healers Essay honoring Kristin Sieja, RN [Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia]

Kristin Sieja, RN (left) and Ashley Rittle, RN - PHOTO BY KIM CRAIG ALI

I have known my sister Kristin Sieja my whole life. Being only 13 months apart, we were more like twins at times. Both nurses in the oncology field on the same floor, we have shared a special bond for oncology patients and their families — a bond of understanding, compassion and strength.

Being the older sister of the two, I always felt I was stronger, smarter and more capable of handling difficult situations than my sister. I was always the one brushing off her knees after she took a tumble outside playing, or making dream catchers for above her bed to catch her bad dreams. I was the Big Sister. But, what I quickly found out about my little sister was that when it came to caring for oncology patients, she was the stronger one.

Kristin holds a brightly lit flame when it comes to oncology and caring for patients. She can light up even the darkest room on the darkest day with her smile and endless love and respect for the patients she cares for. I know this because I worked the day shift and would sometimes take over her night shift patients.

I remember one morning arriving for my shift and taking a bedside report from Kristin. The patient was a woman close to our mother’s age who was battling through the last days of her life. She was weak and tired, with her family around her, including her two daughters who were constantly by her side. Kristin began telling me of their night together. She told me about their laughs, their tears and the fears the mother and her daughters had about the cancer and their future together. She told me how she sat on the edge of the patient’s bed and held her hand through these difficult conversations. I remember listening to my sister as she held back tears and thinking, “She is so strong and so warm, and I am so proud.” Kristin had learned how to pick up this family after they had fallen and brushed off their knees in a world of such uncertainty. She had looked past the diagnosis, prognosis, medications and tasks of an RN, and had connected in a meaningful way with this family.

I took a lot away from this morning and bedside report as an RN — and as a sister. I learned that my sister is no longer little, and that she is a stronger oncology nurse than I could have ever imagined.

Over the years, I have watched Kristin blossom into a dedicated, determined and exceptional oncology nurse who has gained immense respect from her peers and patients. She has sat on the unit practice council, been a preceptor to new nurses in oncology, became a charge nurse and currently volunteers as the patient ambassador to her oncology floor. She has taught me to look for those moments where I can make a difference in a patient’s care outside of just the ordinary nursing tasks. Kristin has motivated me and other nurses to strive for their best and to never give up hope. Not a day goes by without a colleague, peer or patient telling me how much Kristin has motivated them and blossomed in front of their eyes.

To Kristin, the definition of cancer is the meaningful relationship you form with your patients and their families. It is the endless nights of darkness and uncertainty, along with days of beams of light and hope. It is those special moments of emotional connection with patients where you give yourself to those in need selflessly so that they may find peace and comfort