An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Phommaly Outhavong, RN, BSN [Atlanta Cancer Care in Georgia].
AT THE AGE OF 15, Phommaly Outhavong’s grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her grandmother lived with the family, and Phommaly helped take care of her during the last days of her life. That is when Phommaly made the decision to become a nurse.
Her first nursing job was at DeKalb Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia, where she started as a patient care technician. Phommaly pursued a career in nursing while working at DeKalb Medical and became a registered nurse. She has been a nurse for 16 years, 14 of which she has worked as an oncology nurse. Phommaly is a very caring, compassionate and professional nurse who goes above and beyond the scope of her duties to ensure that the needs of all of her patients are addressed in a timely manner.
Some people are in the nursing profession for a paycheck, but Phommaly genuinely cares about all of her patients. Her professionalism, expertise and the smile on her face as she takes care of the needs of each patient illuminates throughout the Chemotherapy Infusion Center. Diagnosed with cancer not once, but three times — with Hodgkin lymphoma twice and then multiple myeloma — I was devastated when the doctor informed me that it was an aggressive form of multiple myeloma and that I would have to start chemotherapy immediately.
When I first went to Atlanta Cancer Care, I saw only the doctor who was monitoring my Hodgkin lymphoma, because it was in remission. I met Phommaly once I began treatment in the Chemotherapy Infusion Center, and she immediately made an indelible impression on me.
After going through chemotherapy from December 2013 until April 2014, I was informed that I needed an autologous stem cell transplant because my cancer was still progressing. I had the transplant in August 2014. But after the transplant, I was given more bad news. The transplant didn’t eradicate all of the cancer, so yet again, I would have to do more chemotherapy. All of this was enough to make me want to give up. However, I just took a moment to reflect, and I immediately thanked God for the doctors and nurses who helped take care of me previously, and realized that those same individuals would be taking care of me again.
Phommaly was a part of my care team, and she picked up right where she had left off being the caring and compassionate nurse. I started chemotherapy once a week and wrote down questions to ask Phommaly each time. She would go down the list of questions, answer to the best of her knowledge, and if she didn’t have an answer, she would consult with the doctor for further explanation. I better understood my chemo regimen and the side effects associated with the treatment because of Phommaly’s helpfulness. To some, answering questions and going out of her way may seem insignificant, but this meant the world to me because it showed how sincere she is.
Although there are many patients that Phommaly comes in contact with on a daily basis, she always stops to address me as “Mrs. Turner,” even on days when she’s not administering my chemotherapy. This is one of the many things that she does to make me feel special. Some days when I have an appointment and do not feel well, Phommaly will ask if I am okay, with that same smile on her face. I begin to feel better because I know that someone besides my family and friends genuinely cares about my well-being.
I can recall a time when Phommaly was giving me a bortezomib (Velcade) injection in my stomach and she noticed some places that were hard to the touch. She explained that those were hematomas that had formed because I administered enoxaparin sodium (Lovenox) shots daily to that area. Phommaly advised me to switch from my stomach to my buttocks or thigh area. No one had ever explained to me that I had other options for injection sites.
In having to go through chemotherapy for a fifth time, I know that Phommaly was placed in my life for a reason. She is a stickler for details, extremely compassionate, caring and helpful, and her professionalism and expertise far exceeded my expectations. All of these attributes helped to ease my mind while facing this difficult time in my life. Phommaly’s enduring commitment to the nursing profession and hard work make her an exceptional candidate to receive the 2016 Extraordinary Healer Award.