Never-Ending Generosity: An Extraordinary Pediatric Oncology Nurse, Patient Advocate and Spiritual Healer

May 6, 2019

"Caitlin is an exceptionally talented and gifted nurse who has the rare and enviable combination of empathy, curiosity, intellectual fortitude and social acumen that has made her an extraordinary healer and leader," said James LaBelle, M.D., Ph.D., in the winning essay nominating Caitlin Cohen, M.S.N., RN, CPNP-AC, CPHON for the CURE® Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing.

It is an absolute honor to recommend Caitlin Cohen, M.S.N., RN, CPNP-AC, CPHON, for the CURE® Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing. Caitlin is an exceptionally talented and gifted nurse who has the rare and enviable combination of empathy, curiosity, intellectual fortitude and social acumen that has made her an extraordinary healer and leader. I cannot say enough good things about Caitlin.

I have had the pleasure of working alongside Caitlin for the past six years. We arrived at Comer Children’s Hospital around the same time to join the pediatric stem cell transplant program. Caitlin had been a floor nurse for another pediatric oncology program, so I knew that she had the skills to be a transplant nurse, taking care of some of the most ill patients with some of the most complex conditions in the hospital. What I didn’t know about at the time was her exquisite talent in not only taking care of the medical needs of patients but also advocating for them and their families, as well as her ability to heal spiritually. She embodies the reason that every clinical provider goes into medicine in the first place. These qualities have made Caitlin a mentor and standard-bearer for our section. Well beyond what Caitlin does medically for our patients is her unfailingly comprehensive healing approach toward them and their families. There are too many examples to recount, but here are three recent anecdotes that reflect her special talents.

James LaBelle, M.D., Ph.D., and Catilin Cohen, M.S.N., RN, CPNP-AC, CPHONPHOTOS BY ARIELLE GALLIONE

Caitlin has taken care of a young boy named Thomas* for many years. Thomas received a bone marrow transplant but has suffered debilitating graft-versus-host disease; as a result, his skin became scarred, he lost his hair, his joints grew stiff and contractured, and he became severely malnourished. Caitlin never gave up on Thomas. She worked tirelessly to coordinate numerous treatment services and medical subspecialties. Curiously, while Thomas was rehabilitating, his weight increased and his vitamin levels began to normalize. This was a profound change and absolutely contributed to his healing. Weeks later I had a discussion with our social worker regarding Thomas and his mother. They were struggling as a family, and Thomas’ mother was thankful that the hospital was able to provide costly single-serving boxes of high-calorie protein-and-vitamin drinks. Questioning how this was possible, I found out that Caitlin was providing these to Thomas out of her own pocket. She had done this discreetly for weeks, never wanting to embarrass Thomas’s mother yet making sure Thomas received what he needed. This is just one example of Caitlin’s never-ending humble generosity toward her patients and their families.

Caitlin is also a great listener. Listening can sometimes be exactly what a patient needs. Sarah* is a young adult who struggled with depression and anxiety prior to her diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia that necessitated a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, her leukemia later relapsed, and she needed another transplant. Sarah had a difficult time psychologically with the first transplant, but that became magnified tenfold upon her relapse. Sarah needed a friend and someone to just listen. For months, Sarah paged Caitlin many times to discuss various minor ailments, the whole time just wanting to talk. This took an enormous amount of Caitlin’s time and a considerable amount of mental energy. I had multiple conversations with Caitlin, as did Sarah’s primary oncology provider, to help relieve this pressure and redirect Sarah’s needs to her psychotherapy team. Although it took a toll on Caitlin, she never wanted to stop. Caitlin not only medically cared for Sarah following her relapse but, I am proud to say, also helped her make it through her second transplant. Her advocacy for Sarah as she struggled physically and mentally is a prime example of Caitlin’s dedication to every facet of her patients’ care.

The family unit is of profound importance in the care of patients with cancer. This becomes even more crucial when caring for children, because the family is vital to the patient’s well-being. Robert* was a teenaged boy with everything going for him until leukemia stopped him in his tracks. Unfortunately, soon after Robert’s bone marrow transplant, his younger brother died and a year later, Robert died from complications related to his transplant. Robert’s mother had lost two children within a year, and the bottom fell out of her life. Despite this, she had Robert’s grandmother to hang onto. She was extremely close with Caitlin, because Caitlin had always been there for her and Robert through the good and the bad. A year after Robert died, his mother was in an accident and was rushed to a hospital in critical condition. Robert’s family called Caitlin and me to help transfer Robert’s mother to the University of Chicago. Caitlin coordinated everything and was at Robert’s mother’s side for weeks as she was treated in the intensive care unit and then transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Caitlin would visit the intensive care unit after her clinic and spend time recounting stories, translating medical jargon for the family and advocating for Robert’s mother’s care. Caitlin was ever present for Robert’s grandmother and represented stability in her life, even after her daughter later died. Despite all she does, Caitlin always finds time to go beyond and help those in need, even when they aren’t her patients.

In summary, Caitlin exhibits natural leadership and care qualities, practices indefatigable comprehensive care of her patients and possesses an enviable constellation of intellect, compassion, empathy and interpersonal skills. I believe that the Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing would be a well-earned endorsement of her nursing leadership, mentorship and service as a role model for others. It is a true pleasure to extend my most enthusiastic endorsement for her consideration.

*Names have been changed to protect patient privacy.

Teaching Moment:

Caitlin had been a floor nurse for another stem cell transplant program, so I knew that she had the skills to be a transplant nurse, taking care of some of the most ill patients with some of the most complex conditions in the hospital. What I didn’t know about at the time was her exquisite talent in not only taking care of the medical needs of patients but also advocating for them and their families, as well as her ability to heal spiritually.


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