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An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring CINDY L. TEEPLE, APRN, M.S.N., AOCN [ABRAHAM MITTELMAN, M.D., PRIVATE PRACTICE, PURCHASE, NEW YORK]
Cindy L. Teeple, APRN, M.S.N., AOCN, and Elaine Suva-Bongiovi PHOTOS BY EMILY VISTA PHOTOGRAPHY
Cindy is not only an oncology nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist, she is also a horsewoman. She and her horse have a special relationship and have been together a long time, so they have “learned” each other. They know each other’s ups and downs, joys and tears, elation and frustration. It’s not easy to be an oncology nurse, and her horse knows that. He is her release.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2015, right after my husband had surgery for lung cancer, right before my son’s wedding. Although you know you might get cancer one day, when they come out and gently tell you “They’d like us to take a few more pictures,” it’s a surprise nonetheless. The X-ray showed one tumor, then the MRI showed a second tumor in the left breast. Stage 1a, invasive breast cancer, HER2-positive. Both my breast surgeon and the second-opinion surgeon concurred that surgery, chemo and radiation were to be the course of action. I was referred to Dr. Abraham Mittelman, M.D., an oncologist, by my surgeon, and we were on our way. Me? I was numb.
I met Dr. Mittelman prior to my surgery. He explained that chemo would not start until a few weeks after surgery. He took me around the office and introduced me to his staff, and then showed me the oncology suite. When I stepped in, I don’t believe I heard another word of what was said. I know he must have been explaining things, but all I was aware of were reclining chairs, hanging intravenous bags, blankets, people who looked sick, people with no hair, blood pressure cuffs, vials, stacks of patient files...my eyes must have been as large as saucers, and the blood, I’m sure, was drained from my face. In what seemed the far-off distance, a voice repeated my name twice, bringing me back to “consciousness.” Then a hand on my shoulder from behind was followed by a “Hello, Elaine ... my name is Cindy, and I’ll be taking care of you with the other nurses. Everything is going to be fine.” That was the first time I met Cindy.
Oncology nurses are very special people. All of them. But some are even MORE special. That is Cindy. From the moment I met her, she exuded a feeling that everything was going to be all right. She explained who the doctor was as a person: what he believed in, what he studied, how he researched and, most important, how much he cared. Each step of the way, she told me what was being done and why, the names of the drugs, what the side effects might be and why it was worth going through chemo. She explained how I must be open and honest with what I was experiencing, for they could help me feel better if they knew what was going on. She is “no nonsense” and can be tough when patients are doing themselves a disservice. But she’s the first one to put a pillow under your arm to make it feel more comfortable with the intravenous therapy, and to put a heating pad on top of your arm to counteract the cold liquid going in. She is both empathetic and encouraging. Her emphasis is ALWAYS on successful completion of the treatment.
Oh, and did you know that she has “extraterrestrial hearing?” She hears everything ... every complaint, every groan, every tear rolling down a cheek. And she has a tip or a trick to help you through almost anything. Going to Mohegan Sun? No buffet for you, but Cindy will tell you what to eat at one of their restaurants. Feeling alone? I’ve been there, and Cindy will help you get through that too. She’s told me I’m never alone in this family.
Cindy becomes your mom, your sister and your best friend who tells you to “snap out of it!” (And she gets the needle stick right the first time!) She shares pieces of herself, stories about her horse, her family, to get through difficult times. She asks questions to calculate how you really feel, and then helps you feel better, even if it’s only for a few hours. Agitated? She has something for that. Depressed? She’ll help you raise your spirits. Want to show off your grandchild’s picture? She’s always available.
She never stops. I never see her rest. She only sits down to start an IV or talk to a patient. I never see her eat. She moves from one patient to another, has eyes in the back of her head and helps the entire staff. She is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to oncology. There is not one question I’ve asked her that she couldn’t answer extensively.
She’s very bright, very cheerful, very honest and very special. I’m done with my treatments now, but she reminds me I’m always going to be a part of the “family.” I hope she wins this award. She needs a vacation!