Treating the Whole Patient

September 1, 2019

"Her goal is to improve the cancer experience and management of cancer as a chronic disease, extending those efforts into survivorship."

Michelle Pembroke, B.S.N., RN, OCN, is without any doubt an extraordinary healer. I have known Michelle since 2016, as she began her Ph.D. program at the Medical University of South Carolina, where I work. Michelle's passion for delivering holistic care for those undergoing cancer treatment — beyond their active treatment — is her core emphasis. Her goal is to improve the cancer experience and management of cancer as a chronic disease, extending those efforts into survivorship.

Michelle came into her Ph.D. program with specific ideas, goals and energy and convened a top-notch team of mentors to help guide her research. Her organizational skills, motivation and goals were notably in the top tier of students in our program. She directly engaged my mentorship, and followed through on suggested directions for her immersion into the cancer survivorship research circle. Through her time as a Ph.D. student, she has remained fully engaged in her clinical role as a nurse case manager at the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute, continuing to impact her patients and her clinical team.

Michelle is fully present in the lives of her patients who are experiencing many physical, emotional and spiritual challenges. Her patients best express their experiences with Michelle as a healer, and here are some thoughts they’ve expressed about her:

Caring: “Some people have it, others do not, even though may they try. Michelle is so very empathetic.”

Positive: “She always had optimism in her demeanor and in her words. One hundred percent of her interactions with patients across the spectrum were uplifting.”

Encouraging: “Her experience enabled her to anticipate downstream factors that would be coming, and she always gave me and others an optimistic view to consider.”

Candid: “She would not let me or anyone else pretend things were other than what they were. When an MRI showed a kidney mass larger than my left kidney that dictated removal of the kidney, I attempted to rationalize and explain away the condition. She sat me down to ensure that I understood the magnitude of my situation and explained, in detail, options for me to consider. Both my wife and I left the interaction with sufficient understanding to make a ‘right’ decision for me. Everything turned out great.”

Smart: “As an Air Force Academy graduate, a retired United States Air Force colonel with 30 years in the Air Force, and in work with the private sector for 15 years, I have been privileged to work with hundreds of outstanding leaders and bright people. Michelle is in the top 5% of all I have worked with. She is very knowledgeable, and her low-key, humble manner enables her to relate to everyone. She really knows her stuff.”

Professional: “It is not uncommon in the health care environment that I was in for some of the medical staff to make questionable comments about others on the staff. Michelle never made any disparaging comments about anyone, and always found a way to describe other staff members in a positive light.”

Holistic: “What sets Michelle apart from the rest is her attention to the mind and spirit. She knows that those who have best chance of being healed are those who have healthy minds. She never diminished the physical challenge of the road ahead, but always willingly provided a nurturing spirit. She took me under her wing and cared about my well-being and remained well in tune with my needs to help mitigate my symptoms. Upon that first meeting, she was determined to find common ground, and we discovered that we both enjoyed running, or to be more precise, jogging. No matter how run-down I may have felt during my treatments or how burned my scalp became after many rounds of the powerful proton radiation beam, she always wanted to know how I was doing both physically and emotionally. She knows that part of being better is feeling better. We also had many conversations about the transition from treatment back into life with a permanently altered perspective.

“We shared difficult conversations, we laughed, we talked about life, we became friends. Although I will likely never be fully cleared of this terrible disease, I do believe that she was a cornerstone in my recovery, and she has been my exceptional healer with a focused attention on the mind, body and spirit. She was and continues to be a truly remarkable healing supporter. I am forever greater for having met Michelle Pembroke, RN.”

These statements by patients and my experience working with Michelle, as well as the engagement of her professional colleagues in her nursing research with cancer survivors, convince me that Michelle is most worthy of the title Extraordinary Healer.


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