An Extraordinary Healers essay honoring Wanda Greeley, RN, OCN [Sacred Heart Cancer Center in Pensacola, Florida]
Wanda Greeley, RN, OCN - PHOTO BY MATTHEW COUGHLIN
There are few words in life that evoke as much uncertainty and terror as the word cancer. Those of us who are diagnosed with cancer understand how life-changing it can be. The day after my twenty-fifth birthday I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The news was not the kind of birthday present one expects to get.
My treatment called for surgery followed by four rounds of chemotherapy, each for five consecutive days, three weeks apart. As a 25-year-old ensign in the United States Navy training to be a naval flight officer, and just when my flying career was about to take off (both literally and figuratively), the cancer diagnosis grounded my plans indefinitely. Little did I know that I was about to meet the unsung heroes of the cancer world — including my oncology nurse, Wanda Greeley, who throughout my treatment was there with her knowledge, encouragement, and caring spirit to get me on the path of recovery.
I didn’t know what to expect going into chemotherapy. I was not prepared for the long 5-to- 6-hour days of infusion or the toll it would take on me the weekends following each round. I thought I was tough and could handle whatever came my way, but I soon realized that each cycle would be more difficult than the previous one.
Throughout my treatment, I always sat in the same chair in the oncology unit of Sacred Heart Hospital and always asked for the same nurse, Wanda. She saw this and started saving my chair early in the morning. She would make sure that she was my nurse for that day without me having to ask. Wanda was welcoming me into her world, even though she knew I did not want to be there. She eased me into the treatments, and at the same time helped make them easier with both her physical and emotional support.
From day 1, I had questions about my cancer treatment. Wanda was very knowledgeable and would not only answer my questions and concerns immediately, but would come back during my sessions with printed information along with online resources for me to investigate further. Accessing and de-accessing my port was rather uncomfortable, but Wanda knew it and made the process less dreaded for me. The times I had to ask for an emesis basin, Wanda did not just hand it to me and leave, she made sure my sickness passed and that I was doing better before she would leave my side. There were days when I could tell that Wanda herself was tired or fatigued, but she still came into work because she knew I was scheduled that day and I needed for her to be there.
When I arrived for my second round of chemo, my hair was gone. Having short hair in the military is expected, but the weather was also turning cold, and I was beginning to look like a cancer patient, not just feel like one.
The last round of chemo was the hardest. Wanda continually provided me with emotional support, telling me stories of nameless people she had treated with the same type of cancer that I had, who had gone on to have children and lead fulfilling lives. Not only was my career in limbo, but also the most personal aspects of my personal life. She gave me encouragement and hope. Early on, she gave me her contact information should I experience any problems, even though she was married with a husband and two young sons of her own. I live off the military base, and my own family lives out of state, so Wanda always wanted to make sure I was well taken care of and was concerned for me even when I was not on the oncology unit. She was like my guardian angel.
Going into my last days of chemotherapy I did not think I could physically stand it, but I knew if I could make it into the clinic she would get me through it like she had done so many times before. I will never forget sitting in my treatment chair one day feeling exhausted and emotionally sad, looking at the numerous others around me going through what I was going through, when Wanda, knowing how I felt, said to me, “Even though the drugs we give you make you feel awful, I know that in the end they will make you better.” Her statement became my singular motivation for completing my chemotherapy.
I have had time to sit back and reflect on my cancer experience, the months of chemotherapy, the people and other cancer patients I have encountered, and everyone involved with my healthcare — especially Wanda, and what has made her so special to me and countless others.
Wanda genuinely loves what she does. Her mission in life goes beyond just being an oncology nurse. Her mission comes from her heart, caring for each person and their well being. How do you spell hope, encouragement, caring, and yes, even love? W-A-N-D-A G-R-E-E-L-E-Y. I thank the Lord every day for what she did for me, for the care I received, and for the difference she has made in my life. Thank you, Wanda — you are an extraordinary healer — the very best of the best!