Our cancer story began on a perfect August night.
FINALIST ESSAY FOR THE 2014 EXTRAORDINARY HEALER AWARD FOR ONCOLOGY NURSING
MY FATHER PASSED AWAY very suddenly in October 2007. Ever since I was a little girl, my dad and I had a special thing about dimes. I always loved the sound of jingling change in his pants pocket. We would play a game, and I remember his laughter as I would always take the bigger coins from his pocket, leaving him with just the dimes because they were the smallest. Ever since he passed, I find dimes in random places, especially when I really need a hug, some advice or, more recently, strength.
OUR CANCER story began on a perfect August night. We went as a family to watch our son Jack play football. My husband, Mike, was running around with the kids during warm-up and you could just see him having a great time being their coach. The next morning, I received a call from Mike telling me that his back was hurting. I knew something was wrong when I suggested he go to the ER and he agreed. They ran numerous tests, including a CT scan and blood work, and within hours he was admitted. The love of my life had received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer at age 40.
The next few days seemed like a blur as we went from the shock of hearing this diagnosis to a full on press on how we beat it. In the blink of an eye, our lives were turned upside down, or, as I like to say, turned on a dime. This story is about finding our real life dime that gives us strength as we fight this battle against
PHOTO BY LIZ CLAYMAN
Mary Kay Morelli, with Noelle Paul, RN, BSN, OCN, CAPA, [right]
Her name is Noelle Paul. She is a nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
We first met Noelle on June 14, 2012, at the first of what would be many surgeries for my husband’s cancer. She walked into the waiting room and called his name. As we stood up to meet her, she bent down to hand me a dime that I had dropped out of my pocket. Little did I know, but that was my dad’s way of telling me to be strong and not to worry. He had sent me Noelle. It would take me a year and about 30 surgeries with her as my husband’s nurse to fully understand the power of my dad’s dime that day.
Noelle has been responsible for Mike’s care on over 30 separate surgeries. When we would discover that Noelle had been assigned as his nurse, our level of anxiety about the pending procedure would immediately decrease. We knew that she was incredibly knowledgeable and always on top of her game. It made having the surgeries much easier for the both of us.
She was always aware of any new developments or side effects my husband was experiencing with his chemotherapy. As my husband’s health changed, Noelle maintained excellent communication with the surgeons, surgical nursing staff and anesthesia team. She made sure everyone involved in his care stayed informed of his health conditions. She was committed to giving my husband the best care possible, and is, by far, the most intelligent nurse we have ever come into contact with. And we have met a lot of nurses on this journey.
During these surgeries,we got to know each other pretty well. Although Noelle always remained vigilant and took her job very seriously, she would find time to ask about our three young kids.
Her compassion toward me as a caregiver has to be my favorite thing about her. On June 19, 2013, my husband endured a major surgery that lasted more than 22 hours. Noelle changed her schedule to make sure she was working that day to take care of Mike prior to surgery. Her dedication did not end there. After completing her 12-hour shift that day, instead of going home, Noelle stayed by my side, comforting me for another 14 hours. She kept me strong for my husband as he was transferred from surgery to the ICU.
Sitting in the waiting room with Noelle, I finally shared with her my story about my dad and the dime. By the end of the story, we were both in tears. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure why she was crying, but out of her pocket, she pulled a dime. She explained to me that she had found it that morning. As the goose bumps on my arm made their way to the back of my neck, I pulled out the dime I had found at breakfast that morning. It was at that moment that I knew where my strength was coming from—it was from my guardian angel, Noelle, who just so happens to be the most dedicated cancer nurse we have ever met.
Without Noelle, I am not sure how we would have made it. Most people only have a few surgeries during their cancer battle. We, unfortunately, had more than what is considered normal. Without Noelle as part of our team, we would not have had the strength to continue. I still find dimes from my dad, but I smile and know that he sent us more than a dime; he sent us a nurse who is truly an extraordinary healer. Noelle Paul is simply the best!