Saudi Arabia/USA: How a Nurse Makes a Difference

  No matter where an individual is treated for cancer, be it Saudi Arabia or in the USA, the nurse(s) can make a significant difference in a patient and caregiver’s attitude and desire to fight the battle. It would be very remiss of me if I did not share the story of Alison Lillard.  Alison is one of the oncology nurses who take care of me when I go to Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville for infusion treatments. She has been treating me since my October 2009 arrival in North Carolina but does have a connection to Saudi Arabia; a very personal connection.  First though, I wish to share some background about Alison.

It is no surprise that Alison Lillard became not just a nurse, but an oncology nurse.  After all, her mother, Floann Nesbitt, was a career nurse whose motto was “To Nurse Is to Serve.” Floann Nesbitt served her patients for more than 30 years.  She passed away from pancreatic cancer in 1994 one month after receiving her diagnosis. Alison understands cancer as both a nurse and as a caregiver.

Alison Lillard is more than “just” a competent and oncology nurse in her chosen field. It takes a special individual who chooses to specialize in the care of cancer patients.  She cares for hundreds of patients each month and has seen her share of too many patients who lost their battle against cancer. As a result, you might expect her to become hardened or indifferent or just see each person as a patient instead of an individual.  Not so with Alison; she is a loving, compassionate individual whom many of her patients look upon as not just a nurse but as a friend and a sister. Alison began her nursing career 16 years ago and for the past three years she has specialized in oncology and chemotherapy at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina.

Alison entered my life as a nurse who made a difference in October 2009 when my breast cancer relapsed while visiting family in the Huntersville area. I had been living and working in Saudi Arabia but was in the United States because Abdullah, my Saudi husband, was receiving treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  His prognosis looked favorable so I came to see my family prior to our planned return to Saudi.  However, as many of us either battling cancer or attending to cancer patients know, life can deliver curve balls to the most carefully laid of plans.  At the time of my own relapse I learned by telephone my husband also took a dramatic turn for the worse.  Both of us were now facing aggressive treatment at the same time and each of us required our own caregiver.  A hard but practical decision was made for me to remain in North Carolina with my son while I underwent my treatment and additional family would join my husband in Houston as his caregivers.

Alison was beside me during my emotional “meltdowns” which always coincided with my chemo treatments. (never underestimate how all the drugs a patient is administered while on chemotherapy impacts upon the mental state!)  Alison would take the time to listen to my fears and concerns about myself and my husband.  She encouraged me to talk about my husband whom I missed and share not only special memories but pictures of him with her too. During this period of despondency Alison not only enrolled me in the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good Feel Better” program but came to my son’s home to personally collect and take me to the program.

  Coincidentally Alison had family in Houston whom she planned to visit during the 2009 Christmas holiday season.  She let me know of her plans and demonstrating her generous and loving nature told me she wished to visit my husband while she was in Houston.  Did I also wish for her to take anything to him?  Her offer of outreach alone brought instant tears of gratitude to my eyes.  It was with great joy that I put together a holiday care package which she personally delivered to my husband.  Little did I know when she made this precious offer that it was more than an hour drive (one way) from where she was visiting in the Houston suburbs for her to get to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

In spite of his valiant efforts to fight the vicious leukemia that took control over his body, my husband lost his battle to cancer in February 2010.  My own body failed to cooperate to allow me to see my husband before he died on 08 February 2010 – my day that will live in infamy.  The moment Alison saw my face when I arrived for my treatment shortly thereafter she knew that he had passed.  She simply held out her arms and I poured out my grief upon her. She was the last person that I had contact with who had personally seen, spoke and had hugged my husband which created a unique bond between us.

  Alison continues to treat and take care of me to this day as I battle Stage IV breast cancer.  Her compassion and zest for serving her patients has never wavered.  I’m not unique in the type of care I receive from Alison.  She serves all of her patients in the same compassionate manner.  She sees each patient beyond his or her respective disease and as the individual they are.

Alison knows her calling and none of her patients are left untouched by her administrations.  She continues to practice her late mother’s motto each and every day.  “To Nurse is to Serve.”

My wish is that anyone impacted by cancer has an Alison Lillard in their life no matter where in the world they are located.


16 Responses

  1. No one wants to be touched by malignancy, but you have spilled the beans on an aspect of critical illness often surprises us— we meet people like Alison, who burrow into our lives and bring blessings that make us cry with gratitude.

    Her mother’s motto might be modified: “To Nurse is to Love.”

  2. What a beautiful person! Thanks for sharing this about your wonderful friend.

  3. Hats off to Alison and to all other caring caregivers who serve. And long may she continue to be a loving caregiver to you, Carol.

  4. Nurses are angels on earth. God bless you, Alison…Thank you for sharing her with us, Carol ♥

  5. I agree with Marahm “To Nurse is to Love.”

  6. Alison, RN is not only living by the motto of her mother …. “To Nurse is to Serve” …. she is also a living memorial to The Florence Nightingale Pledge:

    I solemnly pledge myself before God and presence of this assembly;

    To pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully.

    I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug.

    I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling.

    With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.

  7. extremely touched ❤
    thanks for sharing

  8. There is also a saying that without nurses there could be no doctors, as the nurses do most of the work and probably all of the caring that goes into treating and assisting patients. Nurses are special for sure. I myself have a major operation in the morning and am praying to get some compassionate affectionate nurses, it feels vulnerable to know you are going to need real assistance in controlling or manuevering your body.

    On another note Carol I am wondering if you recieved Abdullas wedding ring or what special possesions you do have of his to remind you of him?. I love the love stories of you and him. My mama had my fathers wedding ring banned together with hers and will wear it to the grave. My husband wont wear his wedding band, but wont let me take mine off, I wear his around my neck on a chain, May Allah s.w.t. keep him for me.

    I pray you are holding up well Carol,


  9. 100% agree withour nurses and technicians there would be no doctors or if they ar ethey would be of not much use. hats off to all the nurses – hope your rank swells 🙂

  10. Thank you for this generous post. It’s so easy when one is suffering not to notice those who help. I’m so glad you’ve got Alison in your life. My prayers to you for healing. Please don’t post this, but know that I’m so grateful you’re here. I was talking to Pat Ryan of SUSRIS and he mentioned your gallantry in facing your disease. Healing and comfort to you.
    On another note, I really liked your last posting about the local politics. Such a tricky time for American organizations in the region. I’m thinking particularly of AUC–they still kept their picture of Suzanne Mubarak opening the new campus on their home page–am going to see if that’s still the case!

  11. […] care of me often when I receive my chemo treatments was recollecting about the time she got to meet Abdullah personally.  She saw him during his period of rapid decline and as an oncology nurse she […]

  12. […] aware that I have been battling cancer since 2008.  I’ve taken readers step by step through the highs and lows of my journey.  I shared how my cancer was initially discovered and treated while living […]

  13. […] Alison – She is my dear nurse who also went and spent time with Abdullah in Texas prior to her death.  She is one of the rare few who knew both Abdullah and myself during our battles with cancer. […]

  14. […] I have been battling cancer since 2008.  I’ve taken readers on my blog step by step through the highs and lows of my journey.  I shared how my cancer was initially discovered and treated while […]

  15. […] I have been battling cancer since 2008.  I’ve taken readers on my blog step by step through the highs and lows of my journey.  I shared how my cancer was initially discovered and treated while […]

  16. You know you can nominate Allison for Nurse of the yr….I will grab the info

    I would start there and nominate her, as a Nurse myself, we often seldom get a thank you, which is fine. We work for smiles and making the patient comfortable and getting the right medications to help. Thats our pay…..Nominate her….because nurses like her need to recognized ….

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