Lessons in Compassion, Faith, and Healing: The life of a nurse

When I sat down to talk to Shirley Davis, she reminded me a bit of Peter Pan; living a life of adventure, exploring new challenges, and caring for those when they feel lost. Even through the phone, her energy and love of life that had been described by her coworkers and patients was contagious.

The following captures only a glimmer of the compassion, love, and ambition of what it means to be a nurse going above and beyond the call of care.

Where do I begin to describe the extraordinary oncology nurses who have touched my life this year? I am going to tell you about one of these special healers who, on the very first day she was assigned to administer my chemo, touched my soul.

Of all the job duties and qualifications that an oncology nurse has, there is one that isn’t on any mandatory list. But it is written on the heart of these nurses and is the “rock” of their healing and nurturing talents. Tools of the trade include nursing skills and healing knowledge, medications, the latest in cancer treatment news, and in some cases, being able to read the doctor’s minds.

In the midst of all these skills and knowledge, there is a gift that these angels of healing have -a special cure gene that is deep seated in their heart. It is not seen on any x-rays or felt by the human hand, it is a “spirit” all its own. It is felt in the patients’ heart, mind and soul – a gift like NO other, given by these nurse angels.
–May “sissy” Graham Smith, patient of Shirley Davis, RN

These were just a few of the many words I read recommending Shirley Davis as a PESI dedicated nurse. I knew from the kind words of patients and colleagues that this nurse was special, but nothing could have prepared me for her love and compassion.

When I sat down to talk to Shirley Davis, she reminded me a bit of Peter Pan; living a life of adventure, exploring new challenges, and caring for those when they feel lost. Even through the phone, her energy and love of life that had been described by her coworkers and patients was contagious.

The following captures only a glimmer of the compassion, love, and ambition of what it means to be a nurse going above and beyond the call of care.


On Becoming a Nurse
Davis was drawn to nursing later in life.

“I have an associate’s degree in computer robotics. It’s never been any use. I didn’t discover nursing until I started working as an activities director for a nursing home. I fell in love with the residents there and working with them. One day it just clicked that nursing was my calling.”

Davis began working full time during the day and taking classes at night to get through her degree. In 2006, at the age of 42, she became a Registered Nurse.

“My sons were really excited for me when I graduated. I was, at one time, a single mother who worked two jobs to survive. There had been some tough times, but we got through things.”

Starting as an RN in Cardiac, Davis had a love of open heart surgery. She never imagined leaving the unit, but at the coaxing of a friend, she applied for a position in oncology.

“Working in oncology has been extremely humbling, especially about the gift of life. The age is so young with cancer. I love to just be with my patients; to cry with them, to laugh with them, or to pray with them.”

Faith and the Cancer Journey
When patients walk through the door at Wellmont Cancer Institute, there are many emotions: Fear of the unknown, sadness, anger, and confusion can all bubble to the surface. But shortly after they enter the doors, patients begin to feel the uplifting atmosphere created by the staff.

“Faith keeps this place going with all the heartache,” Jessica Bembry, RN, said. “You can feel Shirley’s love throughout this whole clinic. Everyone knows her here, and they know how strong her faith is. She shares her faith with our patients and is very inspiring to those around her.”

Prayer and faith define Davis as a caregiver. In a unit that copes with death every day, her faith helps guide her through the roller coaster of emotions that comes with cancer treatment.

Davis says, “My patients have taught me so much about faith. When I talk to them and ask them how they do it, all of them tell me it’s God.”

On Everlasting Love
“When patients come in and they’ve been husband and wife for so many years, you know they’re two peas in a pod. You see it in their eyes, and they know that they’re going to lose their love. That’s hard,” Davis explains.

Recently, Davis had the opportunity to care for a couple who were coming to the end of their cancer journey. A patient with pancreatic cancer was about to enter hospice care. He sat in Shirley’s chair and told her how he and his wife wanted to go to the beach. Davis knew she had to make it happen.

Using her personal funds, Davis arranged for the couple to spend a long weekend in Hilton Head. “He has since passed on, but I would do this every day if I could.”

On Being a Coach
Patient May “Sissy” Graham Smith knows first-hand that Davis’ works around the clock. She writes…

She (Davis) has also added coach to her job description with me as she has taken on advising me about nutrition, building up my strength, etc. She emails or messages me (Most times late at night after she gets home from work) asking what I’ve eaten, or telling me to try this or that. I had to take a two week break from chemo due to potassium problems and severe nausea. My off time was spent trying to gain weight and get stronger. I don’t need to tell you who called or wrote to check on me every day. With her coaching and my determined attitude, I went from 93 pounds to 101.4.

Davis notes that when you become a nurse, you take on a role that needs to bring spiritual, physical, nutritional, and holistic approaches together with modern medicine.

On Loving Your Job
Davis notes that she’s lucky because she loves coming to work. Even in a field where grief comes daily, she enters the center with high energy and hope every day.

“When you’re a nurse, you have to work as a team and be on the same pages as your fellow nurses. Being an oncology nurse isn’t a job; it’s a calling and a passion. We’re here for our patients for all the highs and lows they’re experiencing.”

On the Future
Davis is currently working on completing her BSN. She’s excited to be done in April, but more excited to continue her education to become a Nurse Practitioner.

“I enjoy volunteering and helping people. My faith also plays a strong role in my caregiving. I look forward to working on mission trips in the future where I can help patients heal both physically and spiritually. There’s such a need for healthcare in both our rural community and communities abroad.”


In my time speaking with Shirley Davis, it became clear that she exemplifies what it means to be a nurse. Her desire to continue her nursing education, her love for her patients, and her devotion to improving the world around her, make a shining example of what it means to go above and beyond the call of care.

Contributed by PESI Social Correspondent Josie Salzman.


Attachment-1Shirley Davis, R.N., has a passion for life. When she’s not caring for her patients, you may find her mountain biking and taking in nature. For Shirley’s role as on oncology nurse, PESI recognizes her as a dedicated nurse.


Do you know a nurse who deserves recognition for going above and beyond the call of care? Tell us about it.


Get a free hour of CE when you watch Mastering the Neurological Assessment with Cyndi Zarbano.

FreeCE_Zarbano

Changing the Way We Handle Infant Loss

Recognizing a need to change the way we care for families dealing with infant loss, Megan made the decision to complete her certification to become a bereavement Doula. Since her certification, Megan has become focused on changing the program and procedures at her facility to better care for families experiencing the loss of an infant. That means not just adjusting policies in labor and delivery, but training NICU and PICU staff on how to help a family say hello to their child before saying goodbye.

Mandy Maneval faced infertility for years. Finally, three years ago, she became pregnant with twins. At a routine ultra sound, she was faced with the news that Aaron was lost at 20 weeks. Her little girl, Abigail (Abby), was healthy.

At 30 weeks, Mandy went into labor. She called her sister, Megan Shellenberger, a nurse at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Megan spends most of her time working in labor and delivery, and she was quick to reassure Mandy that everything would be O.K.

Suspecting that baby Abigail had a heart defect, Mandy came to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the home of a leading neonatal cardiologist. The physicians were able to stop Mandy’s labor, but she would remain an inpatient until delivering Abby at 35 weeks.

Abby was born with two very complex heart defects. So rare, that her doctors described it as being struck by lightning twice. Born on a Saturday, she had open heart surgery four days later. She made it through with limited complications, but shortly after her urine output declined, and she began to look dusky.

On Saturday morning, just one week after she was born, Mandy called her sister. “Abby went with the angels. What do I do, Meg?”

Megan was familiar with the tragic loss of infants. She joined her sister in the hospital where they bathed and dressed Abby. She carefully made hand and foot molds of her niece, and a priest came in. Then they left: Mandy carrying a white plastic bag labeled “personal belongings” filled with Abigail’s few possessions she ever touched.

“On the day of Abby’s funeral, I had to dress my sister,” said Megan. “For a year I took care of her, helped her get into therapy, and when I felt confident that she was healing I knew it was time to do something different for myself, my career, and my medical facility.”

Recognizing a need to care for families differently, Megan made the decision to complete her certification to become a bereavement Doula.

Since becoming certified, Megan has become focused on changing the program and procedures at her facility to better care for families experiencing the loss of an infant. That means not just adjusting policies in labor and delivery, but training NICU and PICU staff on how to help a family say hello to their child before saying goodbye.

Megan stressed,“These babies are important, and we should show parents that they’re important to us as a medical facility too. And that means not sending them home with a plastic bag of belongings, but instead allowing them time to slow down, create some memories and have the opportunity to process what is happening.”

Megan worked with Sweet Grace Ministries, a support organization for families who’ve lost infants, to purchase a CuddleCot™ for Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. CuddleCot™ is a small cooling system that helps a family dealing with bereavement have additional time with their child.

“Families usually have one, two or four hours to spend with their infant after a loss. That’s nothing compared to the time they anticipated spending with their child. Using the CuddleCot™ we can extend the time to one, two or even four days. During that extra time, we create a lot of memories. We place a bear next to the baby and take photos, we make hand and foot molds, and we have mementos for the family to take home with them. It’s all about taking the time to say hello to their child before saying goodbye,” said Megan.

Megan notes that there are easy steps every medical facility can take to help families dealing with infant loss grieve.

If it is safe for the mother, facilities need to encourage time for the parents to process what has happened.

“Many families find out that their baby’s heart has stopped during routine ultra sounds. After hearing the news, they go straight to labor and delivery. Sometimes these families have nurseries ready and waiting at home, and they have no time to go home, pick out an outfit, or plan with their family. When we slow everything down, these families can grieve this devastating loss in a way that’s right for them.”

By allowing families time to prepare for a stillbirth, facilities can provide entire families with the opportunity to make memories. Groups such as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep are available to take photographs of mom, dad, siblings, and all of the extended family who are deeply in love with the child.

Creating hand and foot molds of the baby are invaluable for families.

Megan recalls making the molds for her niece. “My sister was devastated because we had to hold Abby to complete the hand and foot molds. Later, when we brought the molds to my sister she cried. She told me she didn’t realize that they were going to be so wonderful. They’re her favorite thing of Abby’s.”

If the facility knows the family will be having a stillborn child, make the delivery room more comfortable.

“Remove the equipment that isn’t needed. If the comforter on the bed is white, change it to something with a color. The baby will photograph against a colored blanket much better. Even little touches like filming when the family comes in can be helpful. It’s priceless to have the moment on film when a grandmother says ‘Oh, he looks just like his Dad.’”

Megan’s role as a bereavement doula can be a wonderful resource for families struggling with infant loss. She’ll join families in the hospital and help them understand that it’s O.K. to take pictures, and it’s O.K. to hold their baby. Megan says, “there is a feeling that it’s morbid to hold a baby that has passed on. But we need to change our thinking.”

Not every facility is fortunate enough to have a bereavement doula on staff. Families can find bereavement doulas through online listings, and are encouraged to reach out and contact a doula. Many bereavement doulas are open to traveling and visiting medical facilities to help families grieve their infant.

“Abigail and my sister are the reasons why I’ve done bereavement. Our medical facilities can do better helping families grieve. For my own facility, I’m passionate about getting the perinatal bereavement program up and running. I want parents who know they’re going to have a baby who won’t make it be able to start planning right away.”

Megan stressed the importance of reaching out and remembering these families after their baby has passed. “Right after Abigail passed, I went back to work and had a mom come in who was losing her twins. She gave me an ornament with two little hearts that had their names on the back. It hangs on my tree every year. And every year I take a picture of it and send it to her, and I tell that I remember.”


NurseOfMonthMeg

Megan Shellenberger, BSN, has been a nurse for 11 years. She honors Abby by caring for mothers experiencing a loss. PESI is proud to share Megan’s story in memory of Abigail. For Megan’s role in changing her facility’s practices for handling infant loss, she has been awarded the PESI Nurse of the Month.


For more resources on infant loss, please visit the following:

The Smallest Gift – a resource available to any nurse or family dealing with infant loss. This volunteer run organization will pack and ship boxes at no charge to families experiencing loss. Included are self help books, a blanket with the baby’s name, a weighted heart pillow made to the exact birth weight of the baby.

Babies Remembered – A bereavement doula certification group.


Do you know a nurse who deserves recognition for going above and beyond the call of care? Tell us about it.


Get a free hour of CE when you watch Mastering the Neurological Assessment with Cyndi Zarbano.

FreeCE_Zarbano