BOSTON—In an event that brought tears and laughter to those attending, CURE magazine recognized Marie Hayek, RN; Robert Martinez, LPN; and Rebecca Wojtecki, RN, BSN; as Extraordinary Healers. Nominees for the 5th annual Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing were selected based on essays submitted by patients, caregivers, and colleagues.
Corinne Gray nominated Martinez for the care he gave to Gray’s husband Lee, who died of cancer last year. A nurse at Bon Secours Cancer Institute, Memorial Regional Medical Center, Mechanicsville, Virginia, “Robert became more than a nurse. He became someone Lee trusted. He became a friend,” said Gray, tearing up while sharing her story. She relayed how Martinez visited her husband’s room even when he was not assigned to him and how, in Lee’s final weeks in the hospital, he sat with him on his days off. She said he empowered Lee and encouraged him but was never pushy.
“After retiring from Verizon after 30 years of service, Robert embarked on a second career and entered the world of oncology nursing just 6 years ago,” said Susan McClure, publisher for the CURE Media Group. He and his daughter started nursing school together, following the protracted illness of a relative, and today they work in the same oncology nursing unit.
When Rita Stoddard read her essay describing how nominee Rebecca Wojtecki, RN, BSN, Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Albany Medical Center in New York, cared for her son Keith through his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, more than one audience member reached for the tissues thoughtfully provided by the event’s organizers.
Keith was in his 20s when cancer recurrence brought him to Wojtecki’s unit. His mother described him as “outspoken and irreverent” and said Wojtecki, who was but a few years older, quickly won over her cautious patient. “They formed a strong connection of respect and friendship,” said Stoddard. Wojtecki compiled a treatment roadmap to help Keith document his therapeutic progress as he pursued his goal of completing college and graduate school. Keith graduated cum laude from college, but another recurrence kept him from attending the graduate school that had accepted him. Wojtecki cared for Keith to the end, asking that Stoddard call her night or day if Keith worsened. She was present when Keith died and supported Stoddard during his memorial service. The two embraced as Stoddard concluded her speech.
McClure said when Wojtecki was asked to give advice to oncology nurses, she said, “Ignore the people who tell you not to get involved or attached. It’s getting involved and attached and taking people into your heart that will make you a good nurse.” As McClure relayed this message, many heads nodded in agreement.
As wonderful as these nominees were, it was nominee Marie Hayek, RN, Columbus Community Hospital, Texas, who was named Extraordinary Healer. Recommended by long-time patient Martha Hastedt, Hayek was awarded for her compassion, dedication, and professionalism. Hastedt described how Hayek shepherded her through treatment for breast cancer and multiple myeloma, coordinating Hastedt’s care among 3 cancer centers. “Living in this small Texas town hours away from large treatment centers has never become the travesty it could have been because Marie has always been so heavily involved in my care.”
In addition to helping Hastedt arrange appointments, Hayek ensured that her physicians receive all laboratory reports and necessary updates. Hayek accompanied Hastedt on the 5-hour journey to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to meet her physician. “She even calls me when the hospital cafeteria is having fried chicken or turkey and dressing,” chuckled Hastedt, noting that those are her favorites.
Hastedt was Hayek’s first patient with multiple myeloma, prompting Hayek to seek additional training. Hayek and Hastedt also collaborated on raising funds to replace the old, lumpy infusion chair in Hayek’s office with a new, comfortable one that Hastedt said Hayek “guards” for her patients. Hastedt said, “She may not be my Marie, but she certainly makes me feel that way.”
Kathy LaTour, Editor-at-Large for CURE, said the evening’s essays demonstrate why the staff struggle to choose the winner. “Any of our 3 finalists deserve the honor, and they’re all winners as far as we’re concerned.” LaTour concluded by saying, “We know that each of you is an extraordinary healer and if it were possible, we’d take the time to have each of you up here and to honor you in front of your peers.’
To top it all off, award-winning actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role as Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series “Sex and the City,” served as honorary mistress of ceremonies. “I am a breast cancer survivor and the daughter of a 2-time breast cancer survivor,” said Nixon, who added that her life seems to be surrounded on all sides by cancer, “real and fictional.” She noted the special role that oncology nurses played in her care and the care received by some of her friends with cancer and described them as “foot soldiers” in the battle against cancer. “Sometimes, as in the case of our honorees today, they can also be generals disguised as foot soldiers—strategizing, making battle plans, boosting morale.”
Nominees for the 5th annual Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing were selected based on essays submitted by patients, caregivers, and colleagues. The night’s festivities were sponsored by Amgen, through its Breaking Away from Cancer program.