My Partner in Recovery

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Finalist essay written by Catherine Gilmore nominating nurse Jackie Broadway-Duren, MSN, FNP-BC, from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, for CURE's 2010 Extraordinary Healer Award contest.

It is hard to know where to begin in describing Jackie. I will start by saying that five years ago when I was first diagnosed with leukemia, I chose M.D. Anderson for my care because of its reputation. I expected to get excellent treatment, and I have not been disappointed.

Having said that, Jackie exceeded even my very high expectations. She is enormously competent and talented. In the complicated business of being a cancer patient, often you don’t know what you don’t know. Jackie anticipates that very situation and volunteers information in a comprehensive and understandable context. Her exceptional knowledge enables her to respond not just to the question asked, but she goes further to help the patient fully understand implications and options. She has the ability to deliver difficult information in a way that is honest and clear but compassionate. She is always sure to balance the challenges ahead with a quiet, positive view that lays out solutions and a plan. It is always clear that we are in this fight together and everything possible will be done to win.

I am old enough and have had enough health challenges to be a very experienced health care consumer. I know good care from poor, and Jackie is in a category of her own. She is incredibly responsive and nothing is ever too much trouble. No call or e-mail is undeserving of immediate action.

She forms a personal bond with patients and always seems to understand the issues that make them unique. She is the very definition of patient advocate.

My best interests are always her first priority. While there are many examples, the first came while I was at M.D. Anderson for a checkup and needed treatment. Jackie asked me when I wanted to start. I said I wish I could start today but whenever they could schedule me was fine. She immediately picked up the phone and was able to arrange an infusion appointment three hours later. She knows I live in Arizona and have to travel to Houston for my appointments. As always, my preferences and convenience were her top priority. This doesn’t happen by magic. It takes commitment, significant effort, and a strong relationship with other organizations to make this work. I am quite amazed at Jackie’s ability to engage colleagues beyond Dr. Keating’s staff to augment the “team” and I know it is due to their respect and genuine admiration for her talent.

One of the most important aspects of being a patient is confidence that the entire care team is working together. Jackie and Dr. Keating clearly are a team. Being a real team—not just people who work together—is not something you see every day. The relationship she has with her colleagues is remarkable.

One of the most extraordinary examples is one I truly didn’t appreciate at the time. I had chosen not to tell my mother and young nephews I had leukemia and needed treatment. My father had died of cancer and it was a long, difficult death.

As part of a clinical trial, I needed an infusion during the Thanksgiving holiday. I was in Boston celebrating the holiday with my family and would have had to fly to Houston or Arizona on Thanksgiving to receive treatment on Friday. It would have been impossible to explain my absence. I asked Jackie if I could get the treatment in Boston. Through her extraordinary efforts, I was treated at Dana Faber that Friday while everyone thought I was shopping with my sister for the day. I look back on that time now and realize how much work this request took. There was only one authorized location for the clinical trial in Boston. I had no doctor in Boston and would only be a patient for one day. In spite of this, Jackie found a doctor—and not just any doctor but a specialist in leukemia—to take me as a patient, examine and clear me for treatment, and then arrange treatment all on the Friday after Thanksgiving. All without ever indicating just how hard this was to accomplish. Never once did she reveal just how impossible a request this was. I came to realize this when the infusion staff at Dana Farber all knew I was the “special” patient. I look back and realize it would have been easier to ask her to make the sun rise in the west and set in the east.

In a world of political correctness, she and Dr. Keating start and end every appointment by hugging the patient and anyone else who is in the room. I have often joked with friends and family that if all the chemo and treatments don’t work, I believe they will hug me well. On her voicemail she ends with “Have a blessed day.” She actually means it. She never discusses her religious beliefs, rather she treats every person with respect, genuine concern, and as if they are the most important part of her day—all while making it look easy.

As I read over this nomination, I fear my attempt to describe how truly extraordinary she is falls far short of reality. I realize, that in part, it is my own limitation as a writer, but it is also her modest, inspirational, and very effective way of making everything work without ever pointing out just how remarkable a job she is doing. When people ask me why I don’t worry or obsess about having leukemia, I tell them I have the best team on earth worrying for me and working every day to make sure I not only survive but thrive. Jackie is very much the face of this effort and my partner in recovery.