Over and Above: A Nurse Shows Her Wings

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 8, Volume 14, Issue 1

I work with cancer patients every day at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and I love what I do. But, this is not my story; this is the story of a nurse who stood next to me during a terrible storm in my life.

MY NAME IS BONNIE ABRAMS. I have been a nurse for more than 30 years. I work with cancer patients every day at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and I love what I do. But, this is not my story; this is the story of a nurse who stood next to me during a terrible storm in my life. She held my hand and guided me through the darkness, with her skills and expertise, down a road I never thought I would travel. Her name is Gretchen Marino.

EVERY SO OFTEN, no matter how good we are as nurses at fending off what comes our way, life throws us a curve ball. It can have long-reaching and everlasting effects on a person and his or her family. It can change us forever. Luckily for me, when this occurred in my life, Gretchen was there to catch me and help guide me through the storm. It was about four years ago that my husband woke up one Saturday morning and told me he had a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away. We had season tickets to the Yankees that year and a game that day. I sat next to him in the stadium, looking at him, and I knew in the pit of my stomach that something was very wrong.

We spent the next couple weeks waiting for test results. The days were long and torturous. Sleep came in short spurts. Both of us could feel the anxiety of the unknown. Finally, as I sat at my desk at work, head in hand, the doctor who had received Jeff’s test results walked around the corner. Jeff had stage 4 esophageal cancer, a type of cancer that is usually both aggressive and deadly. We talked awhile and then she told me, “Gretchen will be in touch with you today.”

In an instant, my relationship with Gretchen changed from a nursing colleague to a patient’s wife in her care. Everything I knew about this disease frightened me beyond belief. How would Jeff get through this? How would I get through this?

After speaking with Gretchen that afternoon, I knew she would always be there for us. And she was. She held my hand when I cried, answered my questions (some I didn’t realize I had), and used her expert knowledge and experience to help us navigate through the cancer web.

Gretchen found me hope when I felt hopeless. She knew how to turn a tear into a smile with her tender, caring compassion and understanding. She would reach out to me with a hug or a kind word during the more difficult times.

As my husband’s disease progressed, Gretchen always anticipated our needs. She helped prepare us emotionally and supported us through the transition into

hospice care. Throughout my husband’s disease, Gretchen would encourage us to live for the day and be grateful for all the moments we had together. She had the ability to make us feel as

though we were her first and only priority. Gretchen provided us with the compassion and support that we needed so we never felt alone.

Jeff lived for two years. He weathered well the chemotherapy, radiation and stents he had placed in his throat. He always believed he was going to beat his disease. He lived, as many cancer patients do, every day to the fullest. He had no pain and very few “down days.” Gretchen was his hero. When Jeff needed to talk about his feelings and thoughts, he would often reach out to her. She would always listen and gently answer him openly and honestly. Gretchen would never side-step any question. Answering the difficult questions helped Jeff battle his denial and gave him the courage to take and keep control of his life.

Losing my husband was the single most difficult journey in my life. It was Gretchen who lit the path, gave me insight, gave me strength when I was crumbling and never let me falter. Gretchen epitomizes what this award symbolizes, and as a coworker and “the patient’s family,” I will always be one of her biggest fans. Life may have thrown me a curve ball, but I was able to hit it out of the park because of Gretchen.