An essay honoring Judy Clark-Knight, RN, MSN [Houston Methodist West Hospital in Houston, Texas].
Mary Porter (left) with Judy Clark-Knight, RN, MSN -- PHOTO BY TARA FLANNERY
I HAD WORKED in a hospital for over 25 years when I got the life-altering phone call informing me that I had breast cancer. Suddenly, I was the patient.
It had been like waiting for the other shoe to drop for years, as my mother had breast cancer twice, at the age of 67, and again at 81. I had also lost a partner to breast cancer when I was just 29 years old. I guess I had always had a sense of foreboding about this disease, so while I wasn’t surprised at what the doctor on the other end of that phone call was telling me, it was still difficult to process.
Fortunately, a lot had been learned through research and treatments in the 20 years that has passed since I lost my partner. Yet, it still seemed as if diagnosis at an earlier age meant a lower chance of survival. But I was determined to be the one to beat the odds.
Chemotherapy scared me the most. I had seen so many others that were ravaged by the chemicals. I did everything I was taught to reduce the risk of complications: avoiding caffeine and spicy foods, getting proper rest and practicing good oral hygiene. Knowing that I had a great support team helped tremendously. Even though they were few in number, they were mighty, and most important to me, was my nurse, Judy, who gave me my infusions.
I went through 12 weeks of a “cocktail” of chemotherapy drugs, then another 12 weeks with a single chemotherapy agent. Judy Clark-Knight was my nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital, where I was also an employee. It was during the second 12 weeks of treatments that Judy became my hero.
After starting my first dose of this new chemotherapy drug, Judy moved on to help another patient a couple of chairs over from me. I didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what was happening, but I felt like my head was floating, I was hot and my stomach didn’t feel well. I could barely get out the words, “Judy, Judy, I don’t feel so good,” but she heard me. She turned around, her eyes got big and she sprinted across the room, grabbing what I later learned was Benadryl, injecting it into my IV, and then stopping the drip. I had had a reaction to the infusing agent, not the actual chemotherapy drug itself. I made it through the rest of my course of treatments without incident as Judy slowed the delivery down significantly, which kept me from having a reaction.
When I came for my next treatment, sitting next to me was a new patient about to get her first dose. Shortly after Judy started her IV, the new patient and I were talking, and I noticed her face become red and heard her say she didn’t feel good. I called out for Judy, and she sprang into action again, rescuing this woman, as well. I realized that Judy wasn’t just my angel, she was the angel of all of the patients battling cancer who came through that infusion center. She is an extraordinary nurse and an extraordinary woman, demonstrating Houston Methodist’s I CARE Values: Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect and Excellence.
Five years ago, on my birthday, I learned that my cancer had metastasized, going to my bones. My “terminal” condition was even harder to process than the initial diagnosis was. How much time did I have left? Faced with another round of chemo, then choosing from oral chemotherapy or hormone therapy, was just overwhelming. Thank God that my angel Judy was still there with her positive spirit helping me to get through this difficult time. I think it was a little easier, not only because I had gone through it before, but because of the confidence I had in her. I always called her “my Judy.”
This time I got chemo and radiation. Fortunately, my body tolerated both with minimal complications. Maybe because physically it was easier on me than on many other patients I had observed. But it was the mental and spiritual aspects that kept me up at night. Fortunately, I had “my Judy.” Not only did I have confidence in her abilities as a nurse, but we also became friends over the course of my treatments, with her sharing news of her daughters, along with hugs and prayers on each visit.
It was not a good day if “my Judy” wasn’t there. But through all of my treatments, I think that happened only once. She worked long hours, filling in for other nurses in addition to working her regular hours. At the same time, she was going to school working on her master’s degree and raising her daughters. I don’t know how she found the energy for me and the other patients with everything else she had going on.
Judy made each of us feel like we were her only priority, and did it in such a caring, personal, and professional way. I know that Judy is serving a special calling in her role as a nurse, and I am so grateful that she was put in my path to care for me, as my personal angel during my most challenging and fearful times. I am a survivor, due in large part to the excellent care she gave me.