My Letter to Nancy, an Extraordinary Oncology Nurse

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 10, Volume 10, Issue 1

An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Nancy Mortlock, RN, OCN, CRNI, CSRN [ Rockwood Clinic in Spokane, Washington ]

Shelli Greenland and Nancy Mortlock, RN, OCN, CRNI, CSRN PHOTO BY ANA ELISA HOPKINS

There is no “I” in “cancer.” However, when I was first diagnosed with this expansive, unbiased disease, I felt so alone. Like it was me against the world, the big bad world of cancer. Soon, I realized I was a part of a large team. A team like all others that have many crucial positions. A team that works toward the same common goals. To give me life, to give me the best quality of life and to care for me the best they can. I learned to trust, depend on and work with my team for the best outcome.

Although I am a part of the team, I am also a fan. A huge “fan-atic” about one of my team members in particular, my infusion nurse Nancy Mortlock. I am sure that Nancy is aware of how important she is to my success. However, I think she isn’t fully aware of how important to me she has become. So when I was sitting in my oncologist’s office and reading the latest issue of CURE, with its quest to find the most extraordinary healer, I couldn’t hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity to express in a letter to Nancy how extraordinary she is to me:

Dear Nancy,

Today, as I write this, it’s been five-and-a-half years since my diagnosis of ovarian cancer. You have been there to see me walk in as a mother of three small children whose husband was working many states away. So scared as to how I was going to raise my babies and go through extensive debulking, radical hysterectomy and chemo. Alone. Since then you have seen me through four recurrences, more debulking, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, more chemo, radiation, hair and no hair.

What have I seen? I saw that every single day that I entered the infusion room, I was greeted with a warm and true smile from my spunky Nancy. Always being treated with complete professionalism, with a huge side order of compassion. I sit in my chair for treatment, and I watch your busy bustle as you give each and every patient, caregiver and employee the same warm professionalism. In our conversations while you are accessing my port, managing my pump or checking my drip, I revel in your glow. Your passion for life, work and your family pours from you. Your presence always inspires me to get out and enjoy life. Just being around you is everything I need to see to remember that life is worth living. Do you know that I actually can see in your sparkling blue eyes that you want me to live? That is a rare and beautiful quality.

One day in particular, I remember those serious eyes carefully standing watch over me. It was my second dose in my second round of chemo with carboplatin. I had previously had a successful first treatment with 6 doses without a problem. Then on this day, as I was slipping into my antihistamine-induced nap, a searing heat in my hands startled me awake. Instantly, a burning itch with the hot hands, my throat closing and my vision reducing to small dark tunnels. Immediately, you were by my side evaluating and treating, yet in the calmest manner I have ever seen. As the seconds went by, I felt myself beginning to fear that I was going to lose consciousness, and then what? You leaned over and reassuringly squeezed my hand, and with your eyes looking straight into mine you confidently, reassuringly told me, “Shelli, you’re going to be fine.” Then you quietly whisked away and went to task. Even though my body was screaming fear, my mind was completely reassured that you would help me out of this deadly allergic reaction, and you did. This would be just one of many different situations when I was assured of your skill, dedication and devotion.

Nancy, you make your job look easy, effortless and enjoyable. However, coming from the medical field, I am completely aware of the enormous level of responsibility in your duties. Yet, I have never seen you waiver, never seen you have a bad day, never seen you falter, fumble, say or do the wrong thing. I truly believe you’re an angel. I’m sure it’s your fluffy white wings that help float you through each crucial day. You hold so many of our lives in your hands, and you do it with such tenderness and respect that it is awe inspiring.

Even more inspiring is that not only did you care for the patients in Spokane, you also were preparing to go on your 50th-something trip to Romania, to train, educate and care for the women and children there. On top of working full time, you personally arrange for supplies, facilities, staff, travel and lodging for your team to provide much-needed care to the very deprived Romanian people. I marvel at your stories … women with breast cancer who have never received care because there is nothing available … carefully trying to educate them that you can’t get ovarian cancer from standing in a puddle, as they believed … body decay due to lack of access to medical care … treating women who have used abortion as birth control dozens of times in their lifetime. And finally, that you pay your own way.

I’m sure that when you hold their hand, gaze into their deep, dark, scared eyes with your beautiful white hair, glowing healthy skin, athletic build and sweet but serious blue eyes, they, too, believe that you are an angel.

Much love, Shelli