In preparation for my final surgery, I recently had my pre-op appointments at Froedert Hospital. What I expected to be a very routine pre-op physical with a nurse practitioner — I believe her name was Nancy — was anything but. As soon as she walked in the room, I could see she was a kind spirit. Very pleasant, attentive and not hurried.

She started going through my chart and reading off a flurry of my medical history. It was everything from endometriosis, to Hodgkin’s disease, to mitral valve prolapse, to migraines, to breast cancer … and as I listened and confirmed it, it was a reality check and quite a variety of medical issues over the years. Some were worse than others, but all were worrisome at some point in time. Breast cancer was clearly the most challenging and continues to be. Oddly, it was almost disconcerting as we reviewed my history. Being a positive person, I don’t dwell on my medical problems or talk about them much. Mostly, I keep those worries to myself.

jennifer-pichelman-a-mental-hugNancy paused after we reviewed my medical history and commented on my upcoming surgery. I felt as if she somehow read what was on my mind. She made a statement about how people look at someone and think they are just fine without knowing their history, and how judgmental people can be. She shared with me that, several years ago, she was critically ill herself.

We conversed for a short time, and I told her, even if given the opportunity, I would not change my medical history. It shaped me. I went through some very difficult times, but at the end of the day, it made me who I am today. And I am a better person for it. Nancy listened and remarked that those were key words … “I would not change.”

I felt as if Nancy gave me a mental hug that day. A mental hug she probably did not even realize I needed.

I can only speculate what experiences molded Nancy to be so caring and compassionate, as our encounter was brief. Does she know she impacted me in a positive way? That her words touched me just so? That I left with a peace in my heart that I did not have when I arrived? Anyone scheduled for surgery has a pre-op physical, so I reflect on the number of people Nancy has met with and how many of those people she likely touched without even realizing it. I was very grateful for her that day. I can only hope I’ve touched someone, without knowing it, as she touched me.

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Throughout cancer treatment and during recovery, were you ever touched by a nurse's or doctor's compassion?

About the Author

Jennifer Pichelman was born in Racine, Wis. She graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin with an undergraduate degree in business management and communication. She recently celebrated 25 years with a manufacturing company in Racine and currently works in marketing. Jennifer was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1994 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Due to the radiation to her chest, Jennifer was told she had an increased risk of breast cancer, which her oncologist diligently screened for with mammograms and breast MRI's. She remained cancer free until December of 2012, when she was diagnosed with a secondary cancer, breast cancer. When a small mass was discovered after a mammogram, deep down Jennifer knew she had breast cancer. After biopsy results came back, Jennifer was formally diagnosed on Dec. 28, 2012 -- 3 days after Christmas.