My Oncology Nurse: An Angel in the "Woodshed"

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 9, Volume 9, Issue 1

An essay from our Extraordinary Healers book honoring Liz Coleman, RN, OCN [West Michigan Cancer Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan].

Judy Elliott (left) with Liz Coleman, RN, OCN -- PHOTO BY MARK BUGNASKI

LIZ COLEMAN is an extraordinary person who just happens to bestow her warmth, kindness, alertness and attention to patients at the West Michigan Cancer Center (WMCC). I am one of many patients who have benefited from her good-natured, friendly and expert care.

In my two years of experience with cancer, she has been one of the most positive, cheerful and outgoing caregivers that I have come into contact with. She is remarkable in that she can lift one’s spirits even when we are not at our best. Those of us with cancer are not always the most cheerful, nor are we always patient, so nurses must possess the personality of saints to deal with us and stay cheerful.

Two years ago I met Liz in the chemotherapy room, or “woodshed,” as we cancer patients refer to it, at WMCC. I had been recently diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and had no idea what I was in for — and I was frightened! Liz was assigned to be my nurse for the day. I was like a child on the first day of kindergarten. She greeted me as I came through the door with a bright smile and escorted me to a comfortable recliner, pulled a chair up close and made eye contact. She explained what the chemo procedure would be and about how long it would take that day. She asked just the right questions about my cancer and about how I felt and then answered all of my questions. I felt she cared about me personally and understood my needs. She was quick to win my confidence.

Before I was connected to my treatment for the day, she brought me a warm blanket and asked if there was anything else she could get for me. I was so comfortable that I fell asleep! The next thing I knew Liz was at my side saying, “Judy are you okay?” I replied, “I think so but my arms really itch.” Liz saw that my coloring was poor, and she immediately alerted the other nurses, and I got the attention needed as I was having a negative reaction to one of the drugs.

I get chemotherapy every three weeks, and each time Liz has taken the time to smile and give a warm greeting —“How are you today, Judy?”— whether she is my nurse for the day or not. I’ve noticed that she gives the same warm reception to all of us at WMCC, and she remembers not only our names, but the tales we’ve shared about our extended families. She too is a mother, with three small children, whom I’m certain are also lucky recipients of her positive comments and encouragement as we cancer-fighting warriors at WMCC.

Liz is always on the go, focusing on the wellbeing of all of us cancer fighters, creating a spot of sunshine in our lives. Last week, I was surprised to see her show up with the cart for my blood draw. I questioned if she had switched jobs, and she said, “Oh no, I’m just helping out today because there was a need.” That’s Liz, always there to help, and quick to answer, “Sure,” when any nurse needs someone to double check a patient’s meds. Often, my husband runs errands when I go in for chemotherapy, and if he needs help in finding me in the crowded room, he knows Liz is the kind nurse that will help locate me.

I will always be thankful and indebted to Liz Coleman, my “angel of the woodshed,” a well-educated, alert, always-positive nurse who make one’s war with cancer much easier to fight.