Oncology Nurses Serve Up Meals Warming Body And Soul

February 2, 2018
By: Karen E. Butler, Director of Communications


Whether on the job, at home or beyond, compassion seems to be an essential characteristic that comes naturally for most nurses. Nowhere is this illustrated better than through the team of nurses manning Clinic 3-2 at Duke Cancer Center.

When thoracic oncology medical assistant Suzanne Matkins, CMA, learned that Caring House, a facility providing affordable housing to Duke Cancer Institute outpatients and their caregivers, had a program in which community members are invited to prepare dinner for guests, she went straight to Janelle Blossingham, RN, who leads the nurses’ Work Culture Committee.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to support our patients, not only while they are being treated but even outside the walls of the cancer center,” shared Blossingham, who in 2017 received the DCI’s Exceptional Care Award. “When we heard about the chance to provide dinner for guests at Caring House, there was no question but that we were all-in.”

On Thursday, Jan. 11, the nurses, about 10 in all, prepared homemade soups, salad, bread and a variety of desserts. There was strategy behind the choice of menu.

“Cancer treatment, especially radiation and chemotherapy, can oftentimes cause mouth sores,” explained Andrea Gillespie, RN, a nurse for more than 18 years. “Many patients begin to lose weight because chewing and swallowing becomes so difficult. The soup goes down more easily and is less abrasive. And everyone knows – there’s just something comforting about a hot bowl of soup.”

As the soups slowly simmered on the stove and a savory aroma wafted through the air, Caring House guests, most likely following their noses, began to filter into the community dining room.Paul and Betsy Brewer, of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, start with the salad. "This is wonderful," said Paul. "Having a home cooked meal prepared for us means one less thing to worry about."

Paul and Betsy Brewer, of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, were among the first guests to take a seat. After a biopsy in August, Paul, 75, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Before coming to Duke, he and Betsy spent time researching places to stay for the five weeks they would be in Durham while Paul underwent outpatient radiation therapy.

“I needed to be in a place where I felt safe,” shared Betsy, who with Paul had looked at multiple facilities before settling on Caring House. “When we visited Caring House, we knew right away that this was the right place for us. It feels like a big bed and breakfast. Tonight is extra special. It means so much that these nurses have gone above and beyond to provide us with a homemade dinner. It means the world to us.”

Douglas Dixon and his wife, Marty, traveled from Owosso, Michigan, to Durham for treatment. Douglas, who had recently retired after a long career in IT, was diagnosed in October with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. After exploring all options, the couple settled on Duke because, as they said, “Duke offered hope.”

“We are so impressed with the kindness and compassion we’ve experienced here,” said Marty, spooning a small bit of vegetable soup to her lips. “We just don’t have anything like Duke and Caring House back home in Michigan. It’s the food. It’s the fellowship. It’s the care. After this, we plan to go home and step up our game.”

Pictured left to right: Janelle Blossingham, RN, BSN, Melanoma; Suzanne Matkins, CMA, Thoracic; Andrea Gillespie, RN, BSN, Thoracic; Lisa Anderson, RN, BSN, Thoracic; and Blossingham’s mother, Karen Swathwood. Not pictured: Evan Dropkin, PA; Karen Bronson, RN; Hansel Bosarge, RN; and Gerardo Chavez, RN.For the nurses, outreach activities don’t end at Caring House. Each December, Clinic 3-2 nurses adopt at least one family. This year they adopted four families. Each person in each family is asked to share their wish lists with the nurses.

“Everyone here, faculty, staff and clinicians, donate items on the wish lists or contribute funds so that we can purchase requested items,” said Lisa Anderson, RN. “There is never a wish on the list we can’t supply. We love to see our patients and their families smile. The journey back to health can be challenging. Seeing a family uplifted, if even for a short time, is reward enough.”

The Provide A Meal Program at Caring House strives to serve dinner every weeknight. The program depends on participation from members of the community. Groups of 10 or less are invited to bring dinner or prepare a meal in the kitchen for approximately 25 to 30 guests. For more information on the Provide A Meal Program or planning a stay, please visit Caring House or contact Kelly Mulhern at 919.490.5449.

Circle photo above: Marty Dixon, of Owosso, Michigan, holds a bowl of vegetable soup. "It's not just the food — its the fellowship," said Marty. "These dinners bring everyone together — Caring House guests, staff and those nurses here tonight preparing this great meal for us all. 

Douglas and Marty Dixon were recently featured on a WNCN news story highlighting Caring House. To view, visit: http://wncn.com/2018/01/31/caring-house-provides-comfort-those-at-duke-c...