Read the winning essay from CURE’s 2011 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing contest.
Because I have been a breast cancer (1992-1993) and multiple myeloma (2002-present) patient, oncology nurses have been a constant in my life for the past 19 years. Treatments at the Southwest Regional Cancer Center in Austin, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Texas Transplant Institute in San Antonio have allowed me to see just how dedicated these nurses are.
None, however, can equal Marie Hayek at Columbus Community Hospital. Her “compassion, expertise and helpfulness” are especially remarkable because she must wear so many hats at a 40-bed, acute-care rural medical and surgical facility whose nonprofit community ownership focuses on meeting the diverse healthcare needs of Columbus, Texas, and the surrounding area.
Being diagnosed with multiple myeloma and living in this small Texas town, hours away from large treatment centers, has never become the travesty it could have because Marie has always been so heavily involved in my care. From the beginning she has been there to give shots, give infusions and coordinate with multiple doctors concerning dosages, side effects and lab reports. She even helped my internist in Columbus encourage my M.D. Anderson oncologist to allow me to have certain lab work done here instead of having to make two separate five-hour round trips to Houston. She went with my husband and me to M.D. Anderson once to meet the oncologist she was communicating with so often. Currently, she administers Aredia infusions, draws blood for monthly blood tests, flushes my implanted double port and coordinates office visits with the Brenham, Texas, oncologist who comes to Columbus once a month. She always calls me to remind me of appointments; she often calls me just to “touch base” and even calls me when the hospital cafeteria is having fried chicken or turkey and dressing!
Marie’s credentials are stellar, yet she continues to learn as she encounters the many facets of the conditions of her patients.
Marie’s credentials are stellar, yet she continues to learn as she encounters the many facets of the conditions of her patients. My diagnosis of multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer, motivated her to further her nursing education. (She had not had other patients with this disease.) Although her professional training has been impressive through the years, my diagnosis caused her to extend that training. In 1991, she received the highest LPN assessment test score and became an LVN that year. In 1995, she became an RN. Her husband, and later her two daughters, supported her schooling at Wharton County Junior College, Houston Community College and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston. While at UTMB, she worked as an instructor on pediatric advanced life support and achieved certification as a trauma nurse. In recent years, she attended sessions at M.D. Anderson, studying to be a chemotherapy provider. She is an active member of the Oncology Nursing Society and the Infusion Nurse Society. Her need to know more about the variety of cancers her patients have has made her the nurse I admire.
Often, in very large institutions, patients are just a number, and they see different nurses with each visit—not so with Marie. She’s the oncology nurse at a hospital that doesn’t want or plan to be a cancer hospital. Despite often having to work the floor and in the ER, be on call for holidays or help out in the OB wing, she never rushes her patients through their procedures. My time with her is always special because I know how much she cares. Recently, we both mourned the loss of another patient. On other occasions, however, we’ve cheered the progress of others or my own. Because she only has one room available to her, she takes great care in scheduling appointments. She understands how frustrating and uncomfortable it is for me or others to have to wait for treatments. Because the infusion chair provided by the hospital was ancient and uncomfortable, she and I worked together with a charitable group I belong to and raised $1,300 to buy a very nice one for her room. While other staff tend to “borrow” other equipment, supplies or furniture from her room, Marie guards our chair so that it is always clean and available for us only.
It is said that one’s attitude can be most beneficial for a cancer patient. Mine has been much more positive because of my special relationship with Marie Hayek. She usually can tell I am stressed and always endeavors to cheer me up. Treatments are always given in an accurate and professional manner, but she somehow manages to make me smile and be more comfortable, no matter the procedure. When I had my stem cell transplant in May 2009 in San Antonio, she and I talked often when I felt like it. She hopes to travel with us this May to San Antonio when I go to have my 24-month immunizations. She wants to meet my other oncology “hero,” Dr. Fred LeMaistre, because she regularly sends him copies of my lab results to keep my transplant doctor informed. Marie’s competency and dedication are so very admirable, and I am certain that she is one of the reasons I am doing well right now. I always know that I can count on her to do or be for me whatever I need. In fact, she just phoned me on her way to have her car serviced in El Campo (about 40 miles south of Columbus) to say she would drop copies of my labs by my house when she returns. She understands that I worry and that I keep a current file for comparisons and to take with me on other doctor’s visits. How much more could I ask from my very special oncology nurse? She may not actually be “My Marie,” but she certainly makes me feel that way!