This essay was written by Dr. Kevin Yiee, CHI Health St. Elizabeth, nominating registered oncology-certified nurse Robin Devries for CURE®’s 2019 Extraordinary Healer® Award.
Robin DeVries, RN, OCN, grew up in the town of Firth, Nebraska, which then had a population of 326. Due to the small size of the community, she developed close relationships with everyone around her; to her, each person was a close neighbor. This sense of community now influences how she treats everyone she encounters.
During her youth and young adult life, Robin overcame many hardships. As a young mother, she dedicated herself to providing a better life for herself and her children and went to school to become a nurse. She obtained her degree in nursing and later focused on oncologic nursing — and she is now in the field of radiation oncology.
Many of our patients come from rural communities, because farming is the leading industry in our area. Due to the nonstop work that farmers must put in during the planting and harvest season, it is often difficult to get them in for a six-week course of radiation, even when they have a life-threatening malignancy. As I’ve learned, hearing about survival data and the latest studies does not change the need for them to put food on the table.
This is where Robin shines. Our patients can relate to her as one of their own. As a native Nebraskan, she can talk with our patients on wide-ranging topics, from whether it would be wise to rotate crops for the upcoming planting season to when the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team might be contenders for a national title. Most of all, because of this bond that she forms, she can help the patient and family see why taking care of their health should take precedence. She reminds them that they want to be alive to see their grandson play in his next football game. She hugs spouses to reassure them that they are strong enough to overcome this challenge. She allows patients to share the real questions that are bothering them.
Robin faced a tragic event last year when she lost her loving husband, Forrest, unexpectedly. A career railroad worker who was nearing retirement, he had been talking with Robin about their retirement plans. Even during this difficult time, Robin never stopped giving support to others. Shortly after she returned from bereavement leave, we had a new patient who was reluctant to undergo prostate cancer treatment after his wife died. Like Robin’s husband, this patient worked at the railroad, and she again was able to create a bond with him that the rest of us could not. Week after week, she spent time sitting down with him, and each time he wanted to quit, she helped him find a reason to come back another day.
Many times, I’ve found out after the fact that Robin has been helping patients outside of the clinic. As if being a nurse was not enough, she also volunteers on the emergency rescue squad for her county. Given the many inches of snow that tend to fall here in the winter, patients sometimes miss treatment because they are unable to get out of their driveways. Prior to his death, Robin would often enlist her husband to help plow some of our patients’ driveways, allowing them access to the highway. Uninterrupted treatment courses are very important in the field of radiation oncology, so she undoubtedly has had an impact on our treatment success.
I am nominating Robin DeVries for the 2019 CURE® Extraordinary Healer. Award because she has shown me that it takes more than strictly medical skill to be valuable in the field of oncology. Robin has an innate understanding of how best to connect with patients, and she has provided more expertise and compassion in this field than anyone I’ve met in my career.