Building Friendships in the Clinic

Pictured: Shirley Johnson, Vice President of Nursing and Patient Care Services, presents Leah with her DAISY Award.

I grew up thinking I wanted to be a reconstructive plastic surgeon, because I wanted to change lives. I felt it was my calling to make life better for those who struggled, but the amount of school was rather daunting, so I chose a different route in computer science. It wasn't long after starting school that I realized I needed to change my path and follow my passion. I got my nursing degree and worked at a few other places before making my way to Roswell Park in January 2016.

I currently work in the Lymphoma, Myeloma & Infectious Disease Clinic, which handles outpatient care for a wide variety of patients. We see people of all ages, which is one thing I like about my job. I get to meet so many new people of all ages, from all different walks of life. We see a lot of our myeloma patients every month, so it’s easy to build relationships with them and follow up with what’s going on in their lives outside of their diagnosis. I’m always learning new things, whether it’s about a case or a patient’s personal life. The other week I learned all about dairy farming from one of my patients! Being able to talk to them about things other than their cancer helps take their mind off the stress that comes along with treatment.

Letting people know that I see them as more than just their diagnosis helps to build trust. The woman who nominated me is a patient I see every month, and I’ve gotten to know her really well. She has four sons — two in college and one who got married recently — so she certainly has a lot going on!

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It’s funny — the day of the DAISY Award ceremony, I knew I had been nominated, but I didn’t know by whom, and I certainly didn’t expect to win the award. I saw the patient who nominated me on my way down to the ceremony. She and her husband wished me luck, but I didn’t even think that she might have been the one to submit the nomination. After I won, I called her, and she congratulated me and apologized for not being able to make it, but I knew her son’s wedding was coming up that weekend and she had a lot of family coming into town, so I was not disappointed at all. I wanted her to be well rested for the big day.

I don’t feel as if I did anything special to receive this award. I was just doing my job — this is who I am — but it’s such an incredible thing to realize that people feel this way about me and recognize the relationships we have, which is something I never thought about before. Getting this award was just a bonus, because I already love what I’m doing, with or without the recognition.

I truly cherish the relationships I build with my patients. I think Roswell Park nurses have a very different type of relationship with their patients than other nurses do, and that’s something to be proud of. I’ve worked in many different areas of nursing, and in other positions, you’re dealing with the immediate problem at hand. At Roswell Park, you deal with the whole picture — the diagnosis, the family, the treatment, the resources the patient needs. You get to know the whole person. At the end of the day, that’s what I try to remember. I see these people on some of the worst and hardest days of their lives, and I try to put that in perspective so I can help them in the best way possible. At the end of the day, whether it was a good day, a bad day, a long or frustrating day, I go home, and I don’t have cancer. The least I can do is be there for the people who do.