I first met Don and Debbie Parker on a cold winter day when they came to the Lung Cancer Clinic at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center (Peoria, Illinois) where I work as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Don was a quiet man, who was very concerned about his illness. His fiancé Debbie, who did most of the talking, mirrored Don’s kind, loving demeanor. Like so many couples I help in my job, after our first meeting most of my contact with Don and Debbie happened over the phone. I did my best to make sure all of their needs were met as they focused on supporting each other on their cancer journey.
Typically, the Lung Cancer Clinic process begins by bringing together a team of lung cancer specialists to formulate a treatment plan for a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient. Once a plan is in place, the patient is brought in to meet with the Nurse Navigator, dietician and any of the physicians that would be a part of their plan.
Don scheduled his Lung Cancer Clinic appointment at 8:00am. The meeting only lasts about an hour, so I had no problem, when he and Debbie told me they were planning to exchange their vows and say “I do” at the courthouse at 1:00pm that same day.
That morning, as I took Don’s vitals, I noticed his heart rate was elevated and his heart rhythm was irregular. Although he didn’t appear to have any symptoms of something wrong, this alarmed us. After some initial testing, Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Mackenzie McGee, recommended further evaluation in the ER. Don’s issues were due to his tumor which had wrapped around major heart vessels. Even after hearing this, Don made it clear that he was not going to miss his wedding. That was when I knew I had to come up with another plan. If they couldn’t make it to their wedding, I was going to bring their wedding to them in the Lung Cancer Clinic.
After explaining my plan to Don, Debbie and the medical staff, everyone agreed this was a great idea given the circumstances and we got to work! Debbie called their marriage witness, while I got on the phone with the Peoria County courthouse, since the marriage certificate was issued for a ceremony in a different county. The courthouse personnel were happy to help as well after learning about this unique situation. Word spread quickly throughout the entire hospital and within an hour and a half the wedding was planned and underway!
The most important thing to remember about this entire story is that here is a patient that just had the rug pulled out from underneath him hearing about the extent of his disease, staging and treatment plan and all the sadness and fear that it holds (the worst day of his life) then had to change his focus to getting married and all the joy that brings (the best day of his life) all within a matter of 1 ½ hours. I cannot imagine the roller coaster of emotions. This couple needed me in more ways than one. That is why I do what I do.
Above and Beyond Series: Throughout the year we will be highlighting healthcare professionals, volunteers and survivors who go above and beyond to make someone else’s life better.