Cancer Care Nurse's Compassion Inspires Patient's Gratitude
Mary Myford knows something about living with pain, fear and anger – even, perhaps, at her lowest point, despair.
Myford, who moved to Franklin County from Boston, Mass., about 15 years ago, has for years been dealing with a rare condition that required her thyroid — a gland in the neck that produces two hormones critical to normal cellular function — to be removed. The operation saved Myford’s life, but came with a critical caveat: for the rest of her life, she would need to take medication to replace the hormones her now-excised thyroid would have, under normal circumstances, created for her body.
Myford and her doctors would also discover, shortly after her initial operation, that she suffers from a related condition known as “malabsorption,” which prevents her body from receiving replacement hormones through oral medications. In combination, the two conditions mean Myford has required almost-daily hormone infusions for her cells to function normally. It’s a routine she’s lived now for 27 years, and the thing that first brought her through the doors of UVM Health Network – Alice Hyde Medical Center nearly 15 years ago.
It’s an experience Myford remembers vividly – not just because she was scared (though she was), but because she remembers one of the first people she ever met at Alice Hyde: a Registered Nurse named Aimee Leroy.
“When I first came to the hospital, I wasn’t a newbie,” said Myford. “But when I walked up on to that floor and Aimee greeted me, it made me feel so welcome — because it was scary at first. I’m not a person who likes change; I like to know my people and my surroundings, so it can be hard for me. Aimee just made me feel like I belonged.”
Myford, who these days needs two hormone infusions each week rather than the five she used to require, has over the years built close relationships with both the care team at Alice Hyde’s Reddy Cancer Center — which administers her infusions — and with the center’s other patients, many of whom don’t even realize she’s not a cancer patient herself.
Myford said watching the care and compassion Aimee gives each patient, and the way patients react when they see the long-time RN appear to care for them, has given her a new perspective on the positive impact people can have on those around them.
“You get to know people when you sit there [in the RCC’s infusion suite],” said Myford. “I think maybe I’m supposed to be there, to help make other people feel better. Watching Aimee has helped me understand how important it is to give a little bit to others, because it can mean a lot.”
Perhaps the greatest impact Leroy had on her, Myford said, came in late 2022. That’s when Myford’s father, Henry Coutnoyer, suddenly passed away from complications associated with spinal cancer.
Myford said her father, who had previously been declared healthy, traveled to Scotland in the fall. About a month after he returned, she said, he began complaining of a backache — ultimately found to be a symptom of spinal cancer. Two weeks after being diagnosed, Henry Coutnoyer died at the age of 82.
“I didn’t even have time to understand what was happening – it just happened,” she said. “I would walk into the Cancer Center with this look on my face, and Aimee would know right away. She didn’t even have to use words. I could go into that Cancer Center and be myself and cry, and she made it OK to let it out.”
For Myford, her father’s passing and previous medical complications — such as a surgery gone wrong that resulted in serious internal bleeding, and numerous IV port infections that have resulted in considerable chronic pain and difficulty administering the medication she needs — had created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear.
“Mentally, I hated the world,” she said. “I wanted to go on strike – but I can’t go on strike. Without my medicine I could get really sick and die. Aimee gave me trust again. I don’t love infusions, but I love going to the Cancer Center when she is there. I love it.”
How to Nominate a Nurse
Alice Hyde launched the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses in 2022 as a way to recognize and reward licensed nurses for making a meaningful difference in the lives of their patients. Nomination forms are located in each of the hospital’s clinical offices and on the Alice Hyde website. Nurses may be nominated by patients, families and colleagues. A committee reviews nominations and one DAISY Award is given quarterly to a deserving nurse.
The Award of part of the DAISY Foundation’s mission to recognize the extraordinary, compassionate care licensed nurses provide to patients and families each day. The DAISY Foundation is a national, not-for-profit organization established in memory of J. Patrick Barnes by members of his family. Patrick died in 1999, at the age of 33, from complications of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) – a little-known but not uncommon auto-immune disease. DAISY is an acronym for “Diseases Attacking the Immune System. The care Patrick and his family received from nurses while he was ill inspired this unique means of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and patients’ families. More information is available on the DAISY Foundation website.