Last year our Co-founder and CEO, Janelle Hail, wrote a beautiful profile on the nurse who changed her life during her breast cancer treatment in 1980. As Breast Cancer Awareness month draws to a close, we wanted to share it again because it’s a powerful reminder of the impact that a simple gesture of compassion can make. That post appears below with permission from Janelle:
Tribute to a Nurse
Dark Days of Breast Cancer
At 12:05 a.m. light streamed across my bed as the door opened into my hospital room. It was not unusual for nurses to come and go at all hours. I was wide awake, anyway, since I could find no peace and rest from my inner turmoil. My nearly perfect life had been wrecked by the intrusion of breast cancer. I couldn’t understand what had happened to me. Neal and I had been married 15 years, with three sons, ages 13, 10, and 3, and were about to move into a new home Neal had custom built for us. Now, one day after a mastectomy, I was picking up the pieces of my life and trying to figure out how to cope.
The nurse who entered my room had a familiar face. I knew her from my church, where she seemed quiet and reserved. For some reason our lives had not intersected except for an occasional greeting as we passed each other in the crowded foyer of the church.
That night she took my vitals, then did something that had an extraordinary impact on my life. She pulled up a chair and sat at my bedside, and without saying a word, reached across the bed to take my hand. For about five minutes, she held my hand in the semi-dark room and didn’t say a word. She was sensitive that I had cried away all of my words and had nothing more to say.
Different family members and friends had offered encouraging, sometimes clumsy words and well wishes to my broken heart. Even an occasional book was left for me, which meant nothing in this dark hour of my life. This dear lady gave me a gift of understanding and hope by not making me struggle to hold a conversation or make excuses for why such a terrible thing happened to me. With her silence, she let my soul rest and gave me comfort with her kind touch. It was like having Jesus holding my hand and enveloping me with His love.
The dark days passed and my life moved on—a life filled with family, friends, and a future. Little did I know that during my hospital stay God would drop something in my heart, a deepened compassion for humanity that started with that sweet nurse. My husband and I founded the National Breast Cancer Foundation several years later to help women who had no means of helping themselves to get free mammograms and medical assistance if they were facing breast cancer.
Kindness Lives On
A couple of years ago Neal and I were having lunch with his brother and his new wife. We knew her from years ago when we all went to the same church. In fact, Don and Debbie dated as young teens and had reconnected their love many years later through marriage. I told Debbie the story of the kind nurse, but said I couldn’t remember her name. I always wanted to tell her what her act of kindness had meant to me. Debbie’s face became somber as her mouth slightly fell open.
“That nurse was my mother, Frances Gieger,” she said. There was a stunned silence at the table. Silence again had spoken more than any words could have. Frances was no longer living, but her silence left a legacy.
How You Can Help a Friend
Why do we feel we have to fill the atmosphere with words, as though everything we say will make things right? When talking with a friend or loved one who is facing breast cancer, observe their needs and allow them to tell you what is important to them. Breast cancer has robbed so many of their hope for a future. We really don’t know why one gets breast cancer and another does not. What we do know is that early detection saves lives.
Thought for Today: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Mark Twain