Tag Archives: oncology nursing

What Makes for a Life-long Friendship? A Snapshot of Such a One

Blog - Kathy 3

A friend loves at all times.Proverbs 17:17

Kathy was in nursing school when we first met. She was on a clinical rotation to the cancer unit where I was the oncology clinical nursing specialist.  Bright, hard-working, kind and wise beyond her years.

We met again some time later when she was finishing nursing school and sorting out her future. She was thinking about obstetrical nursing, loving the idea of all those babies. I saw in her the hardiness and indomitable spirit of a cancer nurse, and asked her to at least consider that course for her professional life.

She did…and I will forever be grateful.

We ended up moving overseas after just a few short years of working together. In those years, a friendship was forged that has stayed strong across time and great distance. I credit it all to her.

I’m not sure how great a friend I am, but God has blessed me with incredible friends. For almost 30 years now, Kathy has hung in there with me…without benefit of much return.

Her birthday is coming up and I just want to make note of what makes for a close and life-long friend – in her loving and mentoring me. [She will say I mentored her…but in friendship, it is she, mentoring me].

Such a friend:

  1. Shares a passion for the possible, if you’re in the mix. Kathy and I collaborated on a patient and family support initiative of our cancer center. In those early days I had the ideas, and she worked out the details. We had a third friend, Kay, who (given her position, wisdom, and spunk) cleared the path through administration for our great dreams…but that’s a story for another day. Kathy was the “hands and feet” to my dreams, and that initiative still continues even more far-reaching under her influence.

Blog - Kathy & Deb 2Blog - Kathy & Debbie

2. Loves your “littles”. Kathy was from the beginning, and to this day, in the lives of our children. She celebrated their births (or homecoming with our adopted third) and their birthdays, their graduations, weddings, and now children of their own. Kathy is a celebrator of life and makes a “ticker-tape parade” for those she loves…and there is a great community of us…because of her.Blog - Kathy & CBlog - KathyBlog - Kathy 2

3. Makes an honored place for you in her family.  I have a room in her house. Oh, it’s not mine, and it’s possible, it’s become a game room with her own children growing up. Still, I know I have a place in the mix of her family. We’ve had coffee together on her deck, and food around a fire pit, and late-night or early morning talks wherever in the house we find ourselves. She has always invited me in to know her family, and they treat me as always welcome.Blog - Kathy & MikeBlog - Kathy & family

4. Sees beauty all around her and creates it as well. Despite (or maybe because of) her hard professional life, she has a great sense of all the beauty that surrounds us. She tends flowers and sets a bountiful table (with that great cook of a husband, Mike). She notices the redeemable in a situation, and she exercises  unshakable hope. She has both the wonder of a child and the faith of an old one. she struggles like all of us, but her actions seem measured; tempered by something greater. She lavishes grace on her people…which I need from her and of which she’s generous toward me.Blog - Jasmine - Kathy VisneskiBlog - Kathy Visneski's pic of farmer's market shopping & Wonder Bread - foodie

5. Grieves bravely and bravely enters your grief. Grief can be so awkward. How does one go well through losing someone you thought you could never live without? Kathy has done that, professionally for years, with patients and family for whom she became family. Then when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, this friend turned all her force of love on us. She called me and my mom, encouraging and counseling with us both through the chemotherapy, and the failure of it.

We have talked for over a decade since Mom’s Homegoing about her – Kathy, asking questions for me to talk about her, and listening over again to the memories that comfort me. Then when her own darling parents became ill and died within months of each other, I tried to be there for Kathy (from hundreds of miles away). Yet, I wasn’t the friend I wished to be. That grace to walk through those days seemed to come from God Himself – wrapping His arms around a daughter who served others well, and now He served her in her own grief.Blog - Kathy's parents

Though I’m not the friend I hope to be…Kathy is that friend. I could have written this blog about many others who have extended great grace to fortunate ones like me. Great, great friends. Today, on this occasion, nearing another birthday, I just wanted to say thanks to this friend who teaches me how to be a better one…and if that day never happens, still is such a friend, because it is her nature to be so. Thanks, Kathy. Happy Birthday.Blog - Kathy & me

Do you have friends you celebrate over a lifetime? I would love to hear about them (in comments below).

Survive and Thrive Cancer Support GroupSunset in East Tennessee - Kathy VisneskiSunrise off Kathy’s deck.

The Lessons of an Innercity Hospital – God Loves Us All the Same

Blog - Grady Hospital - by unclepockets - Flickr Grady. wikimedia.orgPhoto Credit: UnclePockets, Flikr: Grady, Wikimedia.org

For seven years, I worked in Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. At that time, it was THE hospital (rather than the “main hospital” of the Grady Health System) with 18 floors and 1100 beds. Grady is a “safety net” hospital, extending care to the urban poor. It’s also a Level 1 trauma center. Situated in downtown Atlanta, perched alongside major interstate highways (I-85/75 and I-20), Grady echoes with sirens sounding constantly, signaling the arrival of victims of strokes, gunshot wounds or high-speed auto accidents.

Way above the crazy chaos of the trauma center, my job took me into the relative quiet of the 10th floor oncology service. 10B was my unit, serving cancer patients in treatment or in the days of dying when treatment failed. I was the oncology clinical nurse specialist, responsible for training and assistive to nurse, patient, and family support. Many days, it was the extra set of hands that was needed the most.

What happened in that space of seven years, early in my career, taught me deep lessons about life and caring.

I came to Grady after finishing graduate school at Emory University…too young and inexperienced really for the job and the confidence given me. Mary Woody, the director of nursing at that time, gave me wise counsel. “Whatever is done for the patient, be it housekeeping or medical treatment, learn as much as you can about its delivery, and do whatever you can to serve at all those levels.”

I listened and did my best to follow her counsel.

Almost all my colleagues and our patients were African-American and urban. I was not, having grown up in a small town outside the city, in a school system only integrated while I was in high school. In the quiet moments on the unit (few but treasured), I would listen to stories unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Especially from the older ones. Stories of years living in segregation (Grady was actually built as a segregated hospital with wings opposite each other for the care of blacks and whites). Stories of years after, living in forced integration.

One day I want to write some of those stories. Having grown up in a home where my mom taught us to love without distinctions for differences, I had actually missed seeing what it must have been like for those who lived every day marked somehow by the color of their skin.

Again, I was very young during those years at Grady and drank in the stories…marveling at the courage and resilience of both my older colleagues and our patients and families. Taken aback at times, to be honest, by the clear declarations of my “shared responsibility”, being white, of past atrocities they had experienced. If I could have asked forgiveness for all of that, I would have. Instead, “I’m sorry” seemed so inadequate.

Debbie & Grady nurse buddy

There were many lessons for me in those years. Here’s the story I wanted to share today:

It was the end of my work day…as I walked off the unit, thoughts of beloved patients who might not make it to tomorrow clouded my mind. At the bank of elevators, I punched the down button. Finally, the doors of one opened, and it was packed. Often, because of how full and slow Grady’s elevators were, people would go up to come down.

Maybe in deference to my being in nurse’s uniform, or just out of the kindness of strangers, there was a push backward and a space was made for me. I gratefully filled that space. Then the other elevator occupants relaxed and squeezed me in their embrace as the door closed.

At the end of the day, everybody just wanted to get home. That tight fit continued all those floors down to ground. Me and my white uniform – all that whiteness enveloped by so many tired, black family members. Tired like me or more so. The smell of sweat and potato chips, and the heat of so many bodies, caused me to withdraw back into my own small thoughts.

As if in audible voice, God broke through that noise in my head with: “I love you all the same.” All of us, in that elevator – the poor and the privileged. We are important to Him. It is so easy to fall into our own swollen self-importance – whether it relates to position or education or any other state of being we take comfort in…or through which we isolate ourselves.

God’s heart toward us and ours toward each other – that is transforming. That can be world-changing.

Until that moment, I had felt no compassion for those surrounding me in that small space. We were squashed together never to probably see each other again once we reached street level. Yet, in that moment, at the beckoning of God to take notice, I remembered that we all matter to Him. Whatever was going on in each of our lives – bone-weariness or deep sorrow or great anticipation at good news – we mattered to Him.

God calls us to enter into the generous love He has for us and for our neighbor.

If my companions in that elevator knew my thoughts that moment, they might have pulled back a bit from me. I just wanted to turn around and take in all those faces – to bask in the radiance of His love for each one. At that moment, I wanted to rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who would weep beyond that elevator. I was low and brought up by their small kindness and I wanted to somehow do the same.

Was there a glow in that tiny room of strangers? There was for me.

Of course, I didn’t strike up friendships with those who nudged out after me on the ground floor at the last opening of that elevator door. We all walked out into the Georgia late afternoon sun, all together, and then peeled off to different destinations. I went on to my car in the employee parking lot – another privilege of mine, among so many.

That day, my heart opened wider to where I might fit in the Kingdom of God, and what His purposes were for us – to love Him and to love others as He sees them and loves them. The patients, families, and colleagues I loved already…and the strangers along the way.

Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”Matthew 9:36-38

YouTube Video – Grady Memorial Audio Slideshow

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