“You have cancer.” Those three words strike fear in the hearts
and minds of the newly diagnosed. In that moment and in all the moments
that follow, they need a hero by their side. Oncology Charge Nurse Jennifer
McGee and Radiation Therapist Whitney Pralinsky fit the bill. Both work
at Southeast Georgia Health System’s Cancer Care Centers.
“Jennifer is an advocate for her patients, co-workers and our Cancer
Care Centers. She spends a great deal of time teaching patients and gets
to know all about their lives. And Whitney is always willing to help wherever
she is needed. The patients love her and she loves her patients,”
shares Stephanie Sinopoli, director, Cancer Care Centers.
Delivering Compassion and Calm
Throughout the world, 2020 has delivered almost daily doses of uncertainty,
anxiety and fear. For McGee and Pralinsky, guiding people through those
emotions comes with the job. “During a patient’s first visit
to the Cancer Care Center, they are extremely anxious and nervous; I can
see panic and fear all over their faces. The relief that patients voice
at the end of their first treatment is amazing and one of the most satisfying
parts of my job,” McGee says. A 14-year Health System team member,
she has helped countless patients and their families through the arduous
cancer treatment journey. Her decision to work in oncology was inspired
by her parents, both of whom survived cancer. “I wanted to give
others the same care and opportunities my parents received.”
Pralinsky found her calling in college. “After a few months working
part time at a Cancer Care Center, I knew I wanted to work in oncology.
To be a radiation therapist, you have to have more than academic and technical
proficiency. You must be compassionate and sensitive to the physical and
psychological needs of patients. Being part of a patient’s treatment
is an extremely rewarding and humbling experience.” Pralinsky has
worked at the Health System for 10 years.
Faith and Friendliness
Like other frontline heroes, these women say the rewards of the job outweigh
the demands. They are especially touched when patients express their gratitude.
“Working in oncology, we face the reality of losing patients, but
there are also patients who overcome tremendous odds. It makes my day
when a patient visits months and even years later to let me know how they
are doing. A patient sent me a card that read, ‘Faith plants the
seed, love makes it grow. Thank you for making me have faith in you. Your
love for patients made a believer out of my first experience.’ Sentiments
like these make me realize how much I’ve really impacted my patients’
lives,” says McGee.
Pralinsky recalls a patient’s note that read, “You took a very
nervous patient on his first treatment and made me relaxed. Thanks to
your caring ways, the rest just kept getting easier.” Whenever Pralinsky
encounters a new patient she keeps those words in mind.
Being strong for someone enduring a major health challenge is no small
task, but the camaraderie found among their co-workers helps. “The
teamwork is phenomenal; we work together, laugh together and have even
cried together,” McGee says. Workplace satisfaction has a ripple
effect, according to Pralinsky. “I hear all the time from patients
that we have the friendliest staff and how much it means to them to see
happy smiling faces!”
Changes and Challenges
As the coronavirus pandemic lingers, the Cancer Care Center team strives
to maintain normalcy in the workplace while keeping patients safe. Like
other Health System departments, they perform daily COVID-19 screenings
and take extra precautions to protect patients. Educating patients on
how to stay healthy is especially important. Contemplating the changes
to her home life, McGee is wistful. “Although we have a lot to be
grateful for, my son’s senior year did not end the way we had envisioned.
It has also been physically and emotionally draining to have to distance
myself from my parents, as well as my immediate, extended and church family.”
Those working in oncology learn to expect the unexpected, but Pralinsky
was surprised to find the pandemic’s silver linings. “The
pandemic made us slow down. We spent more time with our families at home.
We got creative in how we spent time with other people. It made me realize
not to take these things for granted. I don’t think anyone will
ever forget this year and the challenges that came with it, but hopefully
we can also remember the positive aspects.”
No one who has battled cancer will ever forget the experience. Having heroes
like McGee and Pralinsky at their side may be just what they need to stay
strong. Facing a health crisis – whether personal or public –
helps us focus on what’s truly important. From their perspective
on the frontlines of cancer care, these heroes believe that kindness is
the best medicine, both inside and outside of the hospital halls.
To support your community hospital, please call Southeast Georgia Health
System Foundation at 912-466-3360.