Honoring Oncology Nurses: Valerie Harper to Keynote Extraordinary Healer Awards at ONS Congress

The award honors exceptional nurses who have been nominated through personal essays from patients, families, and coworkers.

Valerie Harper

A highlight every year of the ONS Annual Congress is the announcement of CURE™ Magazine’s Extraordinary Healer award. The award honors exceptional nurses who have been nominated through personal essays from patients, families, and coworkers.

The winner among this year’s three finalists will be announced at a reception at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Thursday, April 23, featuring a keynote by Valerie Harper, the actress best known as Rhoda Morgenstern on the 1970s sitcoms “Rhoda” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and a cancer patient herself.

This year’s Healer Award finalists are Laura Vasquez of Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, Beverly Moser of Rose Quarter Compass Oncology in Portland, Oregon, and Elmeria Teffeteller of The University of Tennessee Medical Center Cancer Institute in Knoxville.

“We received numerous essays about extraordinary oncology nurses not only from the US, but from abroad, and it was difficult to narrow the focus to three outstanding nurses,” said Mike Hennessy Jr., president of CURE Media Group. “We heard from many cancer patients, their families, and caregivers about a special oncology nurse who went above and beyond to help them get through the roller coaster ride that is cancer.”

Denise Weiner, whose daughter Alexa battled brain cancer for more than 5 years, nominated Laura Vasquez, RN, CPON, for all she did—not only for Alexa—but for the entire family. “To say that Laura went above and beyond the duties of a pediatric oncology nurse is an enormous understatement,” wrote Weiner. Vasquez, a third-generation nurse who lost her father to a malignant brain tumor when she was in her early 20s, credits her father’s oncology nurse for her career path. “She made me realize that you don’t just help the patient. You help the entire family in this journey.”

Oncology nurse Beverly Moser, RN, treated Aghdas Ashtari, a nurse from Iran, and she didn’t let the language barrier deter her from comforting her new patient. “I speak very little English, but Beverly needed no English and always read my mind. We mostly talked with our eyes,” wrote Ashtari in her translated essay. “She knew I was scared and lonely. She always went above and beyond to make me comfortable.”

From Moser’s perspective, it’s important to understand that, “You’re intimately involved in these people’s lives. You meet them at a very raw place. They are looking for a kind of touchstone in the middle of a storm. That’s what oncology nurses provide: kindness, empathy, and understanding.”

Elmeria Teffeteller, RN, MSN, APRN, AOCN, started her oncology nursing career in 1978 at the age of 20. Three years ago she became the nurse manager at the Chemotherapy Infusion Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center Cancer Institute, according to Sandra Shelton, who wrote the nominating essay. In managing a busy chemotherapy infusion center, “She keeps morale high and implores us to use our heart, head, and hands to make a difference every day,” Shelton wrote. “She often has to help the healer… Her dedication to us and to our patients makes us better nurses and invigorates our devotion to excellence.”

Teffeteller challenges her staff to be creative as well as caring with their patients. “Think outside the box. If someone says something can’t be done, that’s unacceptable, especially if it’s something good for the patient.”

Keynote speaker Harper knows first-hand the important role oncology nurses play in the lives of people with cancer. Nominated for a Tony Award in 2010, the actress was diagnosed a year earlier with lung cancer, and after living cancer-free for 4 years, she learned in 2013 that her cancer had spread to the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain. Since then, targeted therapy has kept the disease at bay, enabling her to advocate for more cancer research funding.

“We are thrilled that Valerie Harper will join us in celebrating the efforts of oncology nurses around the world,” said Hennessy. “Valerie’s compassion and indomitable spirit will be inspirational for all attending the conference, as will the amazing efforts of the nurses who dedicate their lives to helping others overcome this terrible disease.”

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 over the past 8 years have included men and women, adults and children, representing a variety of cancer centers and hospitals in 18 different states.

For more information and to register to attend the Extraordinary Healer awards ceremony, click here.