While one woman always assumed her aunt Judy provided excellent cancer care, she learned it firsthand upon her own diagnosis.
The person I am nominating is my Aunt Judy, known to most of her patients as Judy Higgins, RN, OCN.
I always assumed she provided detailed, personal care when interacting with her patients, but I never knew I would be able to confirm this through personal experience. In August 2020, I received a diagnosis of breast cancer at age 32.
Aunt Judy was on a Zoom call with my mom and me just hours after my first appointment to help me sort through the details of my diagnosis and upcoming treatment plan. Shortly after, she sent me a care package of chemotherapy essentials that only an oncology nurse would know to send — a port pillow for my seatbelt, packets of Ensure, on-the-go sickness bags, etc.
Unfortunately, we live many states apart, so being Aunt Judy’s actual patient wasn’t viable, but this did not prevent her from being involved. Even though I had to do all of my chemo infusions alone due to COVID-19 restrictions, Aunt Judy always helped me feel equipped to get through them.
Before each infusion, I would text my laboratory results for a second look and she would walk me through them. During treatments, she would message me to make sure I was feeling OK, and she always encouraged me to speak up and let my nurses know if something didn’t feel right.
The days following treatment, she would check in to ask about my side effects, and she was quick to offer at-home remedies or encourage me to call my doctor if there was major cause for concern. We even FaceTimed once just to confirm my Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) patch was working properly.
Surpassing the remote chemo support she offered me is how Aunt Judy led me in restorative yoga virtually for an entire year. She is a certified yoga4cancer instructor and due to the pandemic she was unable to utilize her certification for in-person classes at her hospital. Together over Zoom, we would massage the lymphatic system with stretches and strengthen my bones with balance poses.
Receiving chemo during a pandemic, across 14 weeks of winter, presented me
with very few opportunities for activities. Our yoga sessions gave me a sense of schedule and something to look forward to. I enjoyed getting dressed in my yoga wear and setting up my blocks, mat, chair and laptop for each session. Some of my favorite moments occurred during the Savasana pose, when Aunt Judy would speak affirmations over me: “You are strong. You are healing. Be in this moment of gratitude.”
Aunt Judy had a dramatic effect on my confidence that helped me get through that horrid time, and I don’t doubt she has that effect on her patients in person. She is proof that nursing goes far beyond scanning a wristband, confirming a birthdate, administering chemo and installing a Neulasta patch (although I recognize the precision behind handling these medicines is vitally important!).
A year later, her care and concern for me continue. The day before writing this essay, I spoke to Aunt Judy over the phone to discuss some of my latest scan results. I also asked about her work, and she was telling me that her nursing staff is being hit hard by another COVID-19 surge. Although technically PRN (or on call), she is working more frequently than she would prefer, sometimes acting as one of two nurses on a busy infusion unit.
She persists despite fatigue (and although she would never admit it, probably burnout) and shows up for her patients so they may receive lifesaving treatment and unmatched compassion and support.
I realize this nomination is unique and may appear biased because Aunt Judy is my family, but I believe her approach to supporting me has come from her identity as a nurse, one who is dedi- cated to caring for people with cancer. Aunt Judy’s commitment to this line of work has allowed patients with cancer to experience something unique — they gain a momma-bear protector, a mother-hen nurturer and a knowledgeable, skilled and lifesaving-drug dispenser. I am convinced this work is her calling. She approaches it in a way that is transcendent and sacred.
For anyone reading this who is facing a cancer diagnosis, find yourself an Aunt Judy or just go find her at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lutz, Florida.
Judy Higgins deserves this award based on her commitment to countless patients in Florida, plus the extraordinary care she offered one extra patient across the country in Indiana.
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