In recognition of National Nurses Week, May 6-12, we turn the spotlight on a very special Roswell Park nurse.
Christine Pieri graduated from nursing school on a Saturday and started work at Roswell Park the following Monday. Fifty years later, she’s still on duty.
In those early days, “I didn’t know much about oncology,” she says, “but once I got here, that became my passion. It still is.”
Nursing was very different at the beginning of her career. For one thing, she and her nurse colleagues spent much of their time cleaning equipment: Needles were not disposable and had to be sharpened and sterilized after each use. Syringes and thermometers were made of glass, and “all the medications came in big bottles that you had to pour. And we had no auxiliary help,” which meant nurses wheeled patients from place to place in the hospital.
Over the years, Chris circulated among different centers at Roswell Park, cutting back to part time after her daughter and son were born and returning full time 15 years ago. From the ICU to the recovery room, “I’ve worked everywhere,” she laughs.
“I’ve seen so many changes for the good. When I started here, we had no chemotherapy. We had only surgery, radiation, and [clinical trials].
“People who would have died years ago are living now; they’re cured. People with testicular cancer died — we had no platinum drugs — and now they’re living. Leukemia patients are living. For kidney patients, we had nothing up until 2007, and now we have people who are 12 years out from treatment.
“Every day you turn around and there’s some new drug, some new immunotherapy, some new combination.”
Today Chris is part of the Genitourinary team, where she makes a lasting impression on her patients and their loved ones. Just a few days ago, she had an unexpected visit from a woman who drove nearly three hours to see her at Roswell Park. Chris had helped care for the woman’s late husband. “I had a dream last night,” the woman explained, “and I said, ‘I have to go see her today.’”
“I try to bring a little personal thing into each patient’s day,” Chris says. “They are so brave. They have more courage than I’d ever have.”
She recalls seeing a former patient in the waiting room one day and calling her by name. “How do you remember me?” the woman asked. Replied Chris, “How could I forget you?”
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