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Personifying Family-Centered Care

Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center nurse earns DAISY award for comforting patient's young children during oncology treatments.

When Julie Christensen, BSN, RN, reported for work during Nurses Week, 200 pairs of eyes were on her as a family's letters were read, detailing why they nominated her for the DAISY award.

"The hospital didn't even tell me," she said.

In their nomination letters, the family of Jaime Salazar, 34, described the close relationship they formed with Christensen as Salazar worked through 2 years of chemotherapy for his appendix cancer and underwent hypothermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). CTCA is the one of only two Chicago area hospitals that performs HIPEC, which involves bathing the abdominal cavity with heated chemotherapy to attack any remaining cancer cells. Only an estimated 1,500 procedures are performed annually across the U.S.

The patient's wife was enormously touched the Christensen did her family's laundry and noted that in the nomination. Christensen acknowledge it was the first time she took home washing but insisted it was no imposition.
"I saw that the wife wasn't leaving the hospital during her husband's treatments and, after working with them for 2 year, we'd gotten close," she said. "I said 'honey, I'm doing laundry tonight. Let me just take your clothes home with me.'"

Engaging Children
Salazar's case was unique for Christensen because he was only in his 30s, but his positive attitude is fairly typical of most oncology patients she encounters at CTCA. The facility performs 1-2 HIPEC procedures each week and their symptoms are similar to those of any post-op patient.

"Patients are nervous because it's such a big surgery but 90% are just happy to be getting treated and hopeful for their future," Christensen said.

Even though the patient is optimistic about their clinical possibilities at CTCA, watching a parent undergo cancer treatment is traumatic for young children. Christensen made a point of reaching out to Salazar's 12- and 5-year old daughters whenever possible.

"With the 5-year old, I would give her tasks like listening to daddy's heart for me and telling me he's okay," she said. "I'd show her the tubes and tell her how they helped daddy. She was his biggest cheerleader when he started walking. It was helpful for both of them."

Christensen plays the cheerleader card as well and displayed real pride in the fact that most patients ambulate within 24 hours of leaving the ICU. Her enthusiasm is catching, even for those with an advanced prognosis.

"Most patients don't act depressed or sickly even though that's how people picture people with cancer," she said. "My patients are so positive."

Robin Hocevar is a contributing editor at ADVANCE.

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