Extraordinary Healer Award Winner, Oncology Nurse Sara Sargente, Goes Above and Beyond

At the 2017 ONS Annual Congress, CURE held its Extraordinary Healer Award. This years winner is nurse Sara Sargente.

Patrick Dempsey and Winner Sara Sargente

courtesy: Chris Schneider

Nursing is simply in their blood. A winner and 2 finalists, honored at a May 4 ceremony celebrating CURE® magazine’s 2017 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing, were each inspired in childhood as they watched their mothers and/or grandmothers go off to work every day, committed to shepherding patients through their illnesses.

Today, these women are inspiring others by going above and beyond the line of duty in their roles as oncology nurses. In essays by patients or their families, as well as by colleagues, these nurses and nearly 50 others were cited for offering life-changing compassion, expertise, and helpfulness.

An audience of 1000 was on hand to learn that Sara Sargente, RN, OCN, had won the award. The announcement came during a dinner and ceremony in Denver, Colorado, held in conjunction with the ONS Congress. The event featured a keynote address by actor Patrick Dempsey, founder of the Dempsey Center, which provides supportive services to those affected by cancer.

Sargente is a nurse navigator for patients with head and neck cancer at Orange Regional Medical Center, in Middletown, New York. In addition to offering comprehensive support to this population of patients who often face quality-of-life difficulties, she has become certified in blood management to meet the needs of the Jehovah’s Witness community, whose members do not allow the use of blood products during surgery. In her free time, she runs a patient support group and an ONS chapter that raises funds for the basic needs of lower-income patients.

Sargente won a spa package at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, in California. The essay about her will be featured in an upcoming issue of CURE®.

Keynote Speaker Patrick Dempsey Praises Nurses

On hand to speak about the crucial role of oncology nurses in the care of patients with cancer was actor Patrick Dempsey. In response to his mother’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer, the actor founded the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, Maine, in 2008 in order to give back to the community where he grew up, and where his mother first received cancer treatment.

Offering a healing touch and treatment that comes with “emotion, care, understanding and respect” must take a tremendous toll on nurses, Dempsey said, but “it is felt by the patients and their families. It’s extraordinary to give that much of yourself emotionally to someone, and I can’t thank you enough.”

The Dempsey Center improves the quality of life for individuals, families and communities affected by cancer through free support, education, prevention and complementary therapies such as reiki, wig fittings and support groups. Dempsey returns to Maine each fall for the center’s annual run, walk, and cycle fundraising experience, the Dempsey Challenge, presented by Amgen. The Center raised over $1.3 million in 2016.

He hopes to collaborate with others to expand the center’s services so that they reach more people throughout the United States and world.

Dempsey said his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, and that the disease recurred 12 times, about every 2 years.

“It was great to know the oncology nurses who were with her,” he said. “One understood that she got very cold and would always have a blanket there for her. That attention to detail is what makes your profession so special. You take the time to think what that person needs; you’re sensitive to them.”

Suggesting that nurses are the staff members who truly “run the hospital,” Dempsey asked audience members to “let doctors know we have to work hand in hand to make sure patients get integrative therapy.” He urged oncology nurses to “reach out to the center and build a national coalition where we can work together to develop that idea.”

Two Other Nurse Finalists Honored

Also honored during the ceremony were the 2 finalists, whose nomination essays were read by the patients or colleagues who wrote them.

Janet Schadee, RN, MHA, the urology oncology case manager at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, has not only improved care by launching a multidisciplinary prostate clinic and streamlining appointment and treatment scheduling, but also helps to coordinate travel for patients visiting from afar. She, too, uses her free time to help patients by running fundraisers and a support group.

Jessica Kobs, BSN, RN, is a pediatric oncology nurse at American Family Children’s Hospital, in Madison Wisconsin, whose positivity and helpfulness have forever changed the outlook of the young man who nominated her.

Recognizing Unsung Heroes

Since the inception of the Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing in 2007, more than 1000 nurses have been nominated. The finalists and essayists honored have included men and women, adults and children, representing a variety of cancer centers and hospitals in a host of states.

Sargente was nominated by a colleague, Jayne O’Malley, RN, BSN, OCN, a lung cancer patient navigator and manager of navigation services at Orange Regional Medical Center.

“When patients are diagnosed, they are extremely anxious, and when Sara meets them during her consultation, her calming influence and caring attitude shine,” O’Malley wrote. “Head and neck cancer often affects the ability to eat, drink and speak, and a person’s appearance. When you see how comfortable and cared for Sara makes patients feel, it is truly what the essence of being a nurse is all about.”

In accepting the award, Sargente said she considered herself a representative of “all oncology nurses out there who all know that oncology nursing is a passion and a love done with compassionate hands and hearts for the real heroes: the patients.”

She added that, “now that my dad was recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma, I truly see the importance of what we do as nurses. I dedicate this honor to my dad and to all of our patients going through their cancer journey.”

Schadee was also nominated by a colleague, George J.S. Kallingal, MD, MPH, a staff surgeon in urologic oncology at Brooke Army Medical Center.

“Janet has been the ultimate patient advocate,” he wrote. “She advocates and helps our patients in every aspect of their lives, including cancer treatment, emotional support, coordination of care, research, and health policy.”

Jackson Pagel, 17, nominated Kobs, who was his nurse 2 years ago when he was treated for osteosarcoma.

“I wish everyone could experience her presence, which could fill a room. Actually, 20 rooms,” he wrote. “Many words could be applied to Jess: considerate, remarkable, positive. In my mind, there’s only one that does her justice: hero.”

Making Extraordinary Healer Happen

The event was sponsored by Amgen and its Breakaway from Cancer program; Takeda Oncology; and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Breakaway from Cancer is a collaboration between Amgen and 4 nonprofit organizations that connects patients with free resources, from prevention through survivorship. Dempsey serves as an ambassador for the program, a role he describes as a long-term and ever-deepening commitment.

Speaking on behalf of Amgen was Kathryn West, RN, MSN, the company’s director of advocacy relations. West explained that she has not only worked as an oncology nurse, but also is a patient undergoing treatment for advanced colorectal cancer. Having filled both roles, West said she is especially qualified to understand the gifts and contributions of oncology nurses, and she thanked them for their “level of compassion and patience.”

“You take the scary out of one of the most frightening experiences imaginable,” she said.

Serving as mistress of ceremonies for the event was Kathy LaTour, cofounder of and writer for CURE®, a survivor of invasive breast cancer, a public speaker in the survivor community and the author of a book, The Breast Cancer Companion, published in 1993.

LaTour pointed out that oncology nurses “have gifts you give every day—not only saving lives alongside doctors, but helping patients to have a wholeness of life as they move forward into survivorship, or giving people a healthy death, a resolved death, which can be beautiful.”

“How can there be people like this,” she asked, “cut from an entirely different cloth woven with compassion, professionalism, understanding, dedication, and fearless determination? We know you save lives and souls, and you have patients that go on and live their lives because of you.”