Maria Lim, BSN, RN, OCN, BMTCN, Wins CURE's 2021 Extraordinary Healer for Oncology Nursing

Oncology Nursing News, June 2021, Volume 15, Issue 3

CURE Media Group also recognized Jennifer E. Giovanni, PhD, MSN, MPH, RN, as winner of the Finest Hour Award, which highlights the dedi- cation and selflessness exhibited in frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CURE Media Group recognized Maria Lim, BSN, RN, OCN, BMTCN, as the winner of its 2021 Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing, which honors the expertise, compassion, and helpfulness of nurses in the cancer community.

In addition, Jennifer E. Giovanni, PhD, MSN, MPH, RN, received the Finest Hour Award, which recognizes the self- less achievements of a nurse caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essays were submitted by colleagues, patients, and family members that identified Lim, 2 finalists, and nearly 100 other Extraordinary Healer® nominees, all detailing the noble acts of oncology nurses. These ranged from providing a shoulder to cry on or a blanket to keep warm to making accommodations above and beyond the call of duty so that patients’ experiences during cancer treatment are a little more tolerable. Both awards were presented on April 29 during a virtual celebration held in conjunction with the 46th Annual Oncology Nursing Society Congress.

Lim, a nurse since 1993, moved from the Philippines to the United States and serves as a hematology/oncology/infusion clinic nurse at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois. She was nominated by one of her patients, who considers her the modern-day “angel of the battlefield.” Lim aims to be not only a nurse but a support system for all her patients, some of whom have battles beyond cancer, with posttraumatic stress disorder, for example.

Giovanni, who was previously a travel nurse, started her life of serving others in 1995 when volunteering with the Peace Corps. Since then, she has worked for several agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Air Force. Most recently, she has worked in New York and New Jersey as a crisis response critical care nurse in areas severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finalists for the Extraordinary Healer® award included Jessica Ellison, MSN, BA, RN, a transplant coordinator at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, and Katherine Gacek, BSN, RN, OCN, a nurse navigator from the University of Chicago Medicine in Illinois.

Mike Hennessy Jr, president and CEO of MJH Life SciencesTM, the parent company of CURE Media Group, mentioned that he had directly experienced the impact oncology nurses have. His mother, Patti Hennessy, died in January 2020 after living with breast and ovarian cancers for 9 years.

“The nominations come from your patients, your coworkers, and loved ones, and it’s just utterly remarkable,” Hennessy said. “After reading through the different essays we received and seeing firsthand the care that my mother received during her battles with cancer, it is clear that oncology nurses are the most selfless, caring, and truly inspiring individuals that you can be around. The way that you’re all able to comfort patients in what is probably the most traumatic time of their lives is galvanizing.”

Keynote speaker and award-winning actor and producer Sterling K. Brown, who is known for his role as Randall Pearson on the TV show This Is Us, among others, delved deeper into his role as a cancer advocate, which stemmed from his experience of losing his uncle to cancer.

During his keynote lecture, he showed his appreciation of oncology nurses, who often lean into the stressful, emotional situation rather than step away from it.

Angel of the Battlefield

Maria Lim was nominated by her patient Bradford Evans, whom she has known for nearly 5 years. In his interview, Evans said he can’t imagine working with any other attending nurse and calls her the “helping hands” of the infusion unit.

“Myself or any of the other patients, we don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold,” Evans said. “It’s by the grace of God that we’re here. Ms Maria, through her helping hands, she’s the emissary of God, [who] keeps us alive and keeps us kicking. I will forever be indebted to her for her kindness, her professionalism. She listens to us, and not only me, but she listens to all the patients.”

Lim had an important role in his life the moment Evans received his cancer diagnosis. “As soon as he said, ‘[I’m referring you to] oncology,’ my world stopped, and she brought the world back around,” he said.

Lim aims to make chemotherapy a “somewhat enjoyable event,” by cheering patients up, Evans said. She greets them with a warm smile and even places patients near each other so they can share stories about their active duty days.

Lim has always recognized the importance of patients with cancer, especially those who are on active duty or are veterans. “When they’re diagnosed, it’s really like, OK, they’re veterans, they have this experience,” she said. “Some of them have PTSD, they have psych issues... and now they’re diagnosed with cancer. It’s like another battle for them.”

Lifelong Service Toward Others

Jennifer E. Giovanni was nominated by her aunt, Pam Malone, RN, APRN, who quoted a previous writing by Giovanni in her nominating essay and interview. Malone mentioned how, from the start, Giovanni’s life has been one of serving others.

“Jennifer is someone who has done in her life all the things I wish I could have done,” Malone said. "From the get-go, even before she became a nurse, hers was a life of service and trying to help others, starting out in the Peace Corps and progressing from there. Most recently with [COVID-19], she has been on those front lines on more than 1 occasion. And I don’t know how she does it, but she did, and her experiences really meant a lot to her.”

During the interview, Giovanni described a time she was there for a patient who had stage 4 lung cancer with metastases to his brain and liver before he was intubated, which required “one final call” with his wife and children. With an iPad in hand, Giovanni brought his family to his bedside virtually. The patient’s family comforted him, saying “Don’t worry” and “We’ll see you in a little bit,” although he understood his outcome. The patient’s son came to visit the day before his father died.

“I was in there cleaning the room and doing those herculean nursing tasks that we all have to do somehow in 14 hours,” Giovanni said. “The son was outside the room, and I just thought what it must be like to stand there and look at your father intubated, clearly in a bad way, and not be able to touch [him]...That was a heavy day, but that was also a heavy phone call, but also one that I walked away from with gratitude because I was that presence at that sacred space.”

Giovanni took the opportunity to thank everyone for the award not only for herself, but also on behalf of all nurses on the front lines. “There’s something very special about the nurses that came forward to take care of patients with severe COVID-19, and also those that keep doing it day after day after day,” she said. “The trauma of it is profound, and it doesn’t come upon [us] until one steps away, and then it is overwhelming. I worry about the nurses that are out there doing this day in and day out. They are the true heroes.”

Making the Impossible Possible

Jessica Ellison was nominated by Paul Kent, MD, from Rush University Medical Center, who credits her for establishing their institution as a national leader for patients with fibrolamellar carcinoma, a liver cancer that typically affects healthy adolescents and young adults.

“We have 2 of the best surgeons you could ever want, the best interventional radiologist you ever want, but not a single part of this, not from day 1 and not until today, would have been possible without Jessica,” Kent said during the interview.

Ellison mentioned that she was at first caught off guard when she received a
phone call saying she was a finalist for the Extraordinary Healer®, but then realized that Kent must have nominated her for it. “It has been a lot of work,” she said about establishing the program at her institution. “There’s been a lot of...tears from my eyes, tears from the patients’ eyes. It’s been a long journey for all of us, but in the end, I know that some of the work or all of the work that I have done has helped several patients, families, and their caregivers.”

Katherine Gacek was nominated by Rose Conti, MSN, RN, CNM, who described in her essay and interview about a time the nurse navigator made a storyboard to detail every treatment step for a nonverbal patient with autism who was being treated for Hodgkin lymphoma. The patient, who at first had disruptive behavior because he did not under- stand the severity of disease, was put at ease through Gacek’s efforts.

“She does this for all of her patients, but this patient in particular was [one] who stood out,” Conti said in the interview. “Her extra steps to care for this patient and make him feel comfortable did just so. It was a world of difference [between] what we saw in his actions and how he actually took his care while he was with us.”

“I could not believe that it worked so well,” Gacek said. “And I just feel like I had such a small piece of the puzzle to get this done, but I think it just showed that sometimes we have to think outside of the box. That was one of those cases, and nurses are doing all these things all the time. We’re being very inventive, and it’s not always straightforward, but we just have to find a way to get things done.”

Gacek noted how recognition, such as being an Extraordinary Healer® finalist, is a humbling experience.

“I’m just so, so thankful that nurses are being recognized, because there are times
that we are the unsung heroes,” she said. “Especially in oncology, we wear so many hats, and along with helping patients get through their treatment, that means so many things. That could mean helping with side effects or helping someone get to and from their appointments or helping a mom explain to their school-aged child what it means to go through chemotherapy and what that is going to mean for them. It’s just such a rewarding experience already, [and I feel] so appreciated to get recognized.”

Boundless Dedication to Patients

Kristie L. Kahl, vice president of content at MJH Life SciencesTM, the parent company of CURE Media Group, hosted the virtual event. She took the opportunity to thank the nurses and doctors who have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to thank all the front-line nurses and doctors who have not skipped a beat,” she said. “Over the last year plus, you’ve put your health and the health of your family members at risk, all to ensure that your patients can continue their treatments and now get vaccinated against this virus that has turned our worlds upside down. Your dedication has not gone unnoticed. Your patients thank you, we thank you, and we hope everyone continues to stay safe.”

Bristol Myers Squibb and Janssen Oncology sponsored the event. Jana Low, regional business director Bristol Myers Squibb, experienced the selflessness of oncology nurses when she herself received a diagnosis of melanoma.

“On behalf of everyone at Bristol Myers Squibb, I thank you for your compassion,
your dedication, and for being there every day for each of us. No matter what nurse hat you’re wearing, you are critical in our fight. Each battle is unique to that [patient] and their family, and through your work, continue giving patients and their loved ones the strength when they need it most,” Low said.

Pearl Pugh, vice president of sales and marketing in hematology at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone but especially front-line workers, who dedicate their lives to others despite the circumstances.

“During the pandemic, when patients have not been able to have their loved ones or care- givers by their sides in the hospital or at treatment clinics, you’ve helped to fill the void by offering hope and support,” Pugh said.

Laura Leonetti, director of marketing (brand lead) of hematology and oncology at Janssen Oncology, echoed Pugh’s admiration of front- line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put the role of front-line health care workers, including nurses like yourselves, in the well-deserved spotlight,” Leonetti said. “For over a year now, you have overcome tremendous challenges and worked tirelessly during an unprecedented health care crisis. The world has seen first- hand the skill, determination, and heart it takes to serve as a nurse on the front lines. You are truly bright and brave heroes, not only to cancer patients but to all of us.”