Nurse Team Leader, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital
Fittingly, it was a sunny afternoon last October when Kimberly Sims was preparing to celebrate an important milestone—completing her last chemotherapy treatment at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
Patients at the hospital’s Sandra & Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute traditionally celebrate the end of treatment by ringing a cast-iron survivorship bell mounted on a post in the center’s “Healing Garden.” But for Sims, the day was doubly momentous—she was memorializing the end of her second round of treatments after being re-diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2017.
For the occasion, Sims, a police officer and single mother of three, was joined by a longtime friend who flew in from Texas, and by Lisa Kight, a nurse at GBMC’s Lois Harvey Miller Infusion Center, who was there for her throughout both of her battles with cancer.
“Lisa came with me when I rang the bell,” Sims recalls. “She held my hand and then eventually had to make me stop ringing it, because I was so happy to be done,” she says with a laugh.
The two met in 2013, when Sims began her first round of chemotherapy. They developed a strong bond during her long treatments, which were often accompanied by painful side effects.
“She was like sunshine,” says Sims of her nurse-turned-friend. “When you’re sitting there yapping and talking and laughing, the procedures you have to go through disappear.” Eventually, Sims began to see her trips to the infusion center as a chance to visit with a friend. “It went from ‘I have chemo’ to ‘I’m hanging out with Lisa,’” she says.
And it’s more than just bonding: Nurses have the unique ability to offer support and understanding of what patients are going through during treatment, says Sims. “Sometimes, you need somebody to just listen,” she says. “After a while, sadly, a lot of the time your family gets tired of listening.”
Registered Nurse, Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center
Kight says providing companionship and comfort is one of the best parts of the job. “The word ‘cancer’ still puts a lot of fear into people,” she says. “They sit up and pay attention when they hear the ‘big C.’”
“Some patients come in very anxious, and we help them get through that very vulnerable time in their lives,” Kight says. “We help them manage their anxiety, get through their first treatment, and help them understand that they can do this. I think that’s where the bond starts to form.”
Like most of the nurses at the GBMC infusion center, Kight has gotten close with several patients during the past 17 years. “It’s hard to draw the line. You can’t do it with everybody, obviously, or you’d drive yourself crazy,” she says. “But there are people you get close to, there are relationships that form, and other nurses feel that, too. It’s hard not to, because that’s the humanness in this.”
“Sometimes, you need somebody to just listen. . . after
a while, sadly, a
lot of the time,
your family gets tired of listening.”
When friends or family members ask Kight what drew her to the often-emotional field of oncology, she points to her patients as her inspiration. “I’ve learned a lot about what’s important in life from my patients,” she says. “When I think I’m having a bad day, and I come in here and look around and see what our patients are going through, it keeps it all in perspective.”
Take Sims, for example—despite the pain of her treatment, Kight says she’s always quick to crack a joke and make her laugh. “She has a very high-stress job, she’s a single mom, she has a lot of stressors in her life, she’s dealing with her aging parents—the stuff all of us deal with in life—and she has this cancer on top of it,” says Kight. “She just deals with it all and keeps the comedy act going, too. When it’s time to be serious, she can be serious, as well, but she keeps it on the light side of things.”