GREENFIELD — When Leslie Wickard tells her patients she was born in the same hospital where she now works, she gets a lot of laughs.
It takes them a few minutes to realize she’s serious — and many of the nurses and staff at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center at Hancock Regional Hospital have similar county connections.
They know the area — and they know each other.
Wickard, the infusion supervisor, is the daughter of Sherry Lawrence, nurse navigator. And Linda Holliday, the cancer center clinical manager, was Wickard’s 4-H leader for years. The nurses caring for people being treated for cancer and blood disorders at the center say those connections, small personal touches of familiarity, make patients feel more comfortable during a traumatic time in their lives.
Holliday has worked at Hancock Regional Hospital since 1984 and has trained cancer nurses throughout her career. Many of the people staffing the cancer center have a rapport with patients built on their own life experiences — one nurse is an ovarian cancer survivor, and another lost her mother to cancer at 6 years old.
And many of them grew up in the community as well, visiting the same places, worshiping at the same churches and sharing a history of Hancock County happenings, she said.
“It puts patients at ease when we know them,” Holliday said. “It creates a family atmosphere.”
Most of the time, one of the nine nurses in the center knows somebody the patient knows. It’s a quick reference, something that helps them feel a bit less uneasy during the beginning of their chemotherapy treatment, she said.
“A big piece of this for us is we are the community caring for the community,” Holliday said.
Though it’s not a requirement of the job, it worked out that all of the nurses working at the cancer center live in the county as well.
Gerry Shaw is in his fifth month of chemotherapy at the center for myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder. He and his wife, Patty Shaw, have found at the facility a family of caregivers that seem to know what they need before they do.
The nurses have a way of knowing when a patient is having a tough time, Gerry Shaw said.
“They’re always upbeat, no matter how down you are feeling,” he said. “Their constant happiness makes you feel better.”
As the infusion supervisor, Wickard coordinates the other nurses’ schedules and also educates patients on the process ahead. She occasionally gives infusions, including chemotherapy and other intravenous treatments for blood disorders like anemia or blood clots, she said.
She grew up five minutes from Hancock Regional Hospital; she attended Eastern Hancock schools and now lives in Wilkinson. A lot of the people who come through the cancer center’s doors have familiar faces, which can be both good and bad — good that she can provide comfort to them, bad because she hates to see a friend hurting.
People tell Wickard they couldn’t imagine working with their mothers, but Wickard and Lawrence have worked in the same hospital her whole career, she said. She loves working with her mom, and she loves seeing Lawrence’s caring shine through in her role as nurse navigator.
“Imagine you get a call from your doctor, who says he’s sending you to an oncologist,” Wickard said. “Your first thought is probably, ‘I’m going to die.’”
The nurse navigator is someone who guides a patient along the journey through cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment to, hopefully, recovery. Lawrence serves to allay patients’ fears as the go-to person for patients and their families, who are often confused and scared at the beginning of the treatment process.
Lawrence puts doctors’ explanations into layman’s terms and is available anytime a patient or a family has questions, Wickard said.
It’s a 24/7 committment Wickard’s seen in action.
Their family likes to go boating on the Ohio River for fun, and she’s often heard her mom shout, “Pull the boat over! I’ve got a patient calling!” she said.
Her daughter admires her dedication — and shares it.
“Even though it can be stressful and emotional, it’s worth it,” Wickard said. “This is what I was put on earth to do.”