The Best Thing That Ever Happened, Advocating For the Patient

September 21, 2020

You have a new cancer diagnosis that stops you in your tracks. You are sick, afraid, vulnerable and in pain when you come to the cancer center at Temple University Hospital. The first advocate you will meet on your cancer journey is your nurse navigator

You have a new cancer diagnosis that stops you in your tracks. You are sick, afraid, vulnerable and in pain when you come to the cancer center at Temple University Hospital. The first advocate you will meet on your cancer journey is your nurse navigator, Maria Rodriguez, B.S.N., RN. Fortunately, she has been expecting you and researching your case. Maria is an integral part of the plan, and she is ready to help you every step of the way to obtain care.

Nurse navigators like Maria break through barriers to obtaining care. What makes Maria different is that she looks beyond your diagnosis and treats you like a human being. Great nurses heal the sick, soothe the spirit and treat illness. Maria also honors what makes you an individual. The cancer center at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia is in an area rich in diversity. We have a large population of Hispanic patients. Prior to Maria’s arrival, these patients fell through the cracks.

They needed services, but they did not have an advocate to make sure they received that care. Because she is Hispanic, Maria understands the fears and myths associated with cancer in this community and is able to explain them to clinicians and physicians. She provides a clear picture of what’s being communicated to both the patient and the medical providers, generating trust.

Although Maria is fluent in Spanish, she took the steps beyond her job requirement to become a dual-role medical interpreter to make sure she used and translated the correct words and messages to our Spanish-speaking patients, who come from various countries. She handles her role with integrity, ensuring that bad news is delivered with compassion and sensitivity. As a testament to how well she is loved, numerous patient photos and mementos, with many notes of appreciation and thanks, adorn her office.

Maria also made our cancer center’s yearly holiday-meal food drive for patients more inclusive. Foods like boxed stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce are common on American holiday tables. However, Maria made sure that the drive included culturally specific culinary items for the traditional Hispanic holiday feast, such as “sofrito,” rice, certain seasonings and “tembleque,” a traditional dessert, to be distributed to families in need. The center’s patients and families greatly appreciated these familiar and welcoming items.

Maria also spearheaded the Feliz Navidad celebration. This program featured the Christmas traditions of Spanish-speaking countries, including nostalgic songs and cuisine cooked by the patients and staff. Meaningful gifts including hats, scarves and Christmas ornaments were distributed. The patients were very thankful, appreciative and overjoyed that the cancer center’s staff took the time to make them happy. This event allowed them to forget about the seriousness of their illness for a moment. Overheard during the joyous and festive celebration was a nursing col- league’s remark that “Maria is the best thing that ever happened to our patients.” I agree, because she has the ability to reach out and meet patients where they are mentally and emotionally. She shines above others because of her warm hospitality and inviting nature.

Although caring takes its toll on Maria, she never shows that to her patients. She always finds the time to make people laugh. She has a joie de vivre that helps patients focus on healing, and her infectious laughter is a balm in stressful situations. Maria can make you laugh when you want to cry.

As an experienced triage nurse, Maria can quickly decipher when patients require emergency care necessitating a lifesaving rapid response. Many times, patients come to the cancer center with advanced stages of disease and visible signs of progression. An example of her compassion and nursing skills was seen when a patient with head and neck cancer and a tracheostomy was waiting for an appointment with his physician. Maria quickly identified the patient’s swollen lips and protruding tongue and knew that angioedema was likely the cause of his presentation. Quick action was taken with the rapid response team to address his symptoms. If it were not for Maria’s intervention, his airway would likely have collapsed, putting his life at risk.

Many times, patients require resources to help them during treatments, like skin cream to tolerate the effects of the chemotherapy agent Erbitux (cetuximab) or a hat on a cold winter day after they have lost their hair due to treatments. Patients come to Maria, and she makes sure the resources go where they are needed the most.

Maria is most deserving of the CURE® Extraordinary Healer® Award because she truly exemplifies what it means to be a compassionate and skilled nurse. Her competence across all cultures and her desire to go the extra mile for all our patients demonstrate her selflessness. She gives of herself without thought of a reward or accolades. Our patients love her, and the cancer center would not be as successful without her kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion. She serves as a role model for others because of her selflessness, and, as a result, our patients are well served.


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