Celebrated Iditarod musher and cancer survivor Dee Dee Jonrowe compared the necessity of teamwork in sled dog racing to the teamwork required in health care as she addressed area nurses on National Nurses Day at Central Peninsula General Hospital on Friday.
"I start with 12 dogs on my team, but Iditarod rules say I have to finish with a minimum five dogs or my team will be disqualified," Jonrowe said.
Illustrating a dog team on a white board, she said that if just one of those five dogs is missing, the team fails.
"There's no dog team that runs to Nome with just a lead dog and a musher. It takes a team," she said.
"Like a medical journey, the patient will not get to the other side with just a doctor -- it takes a team," said Jonrowe, who related her experience in battling breast cancer from the perspective of the patient.
Jonrowe, who has finished in the top 10 mushers 13 times in 22 Iditarod races, was running in fourth place in 2002, when she experienced what she described "an endurance meltdown" in Golovnin Bay and finished 15th.
She was taken to the hospital in Nome, where her medical journey began. First came the cancer diagnosis, then the surgery, the chemotherapy and a regimen of doctor visits and medicines.
"After the diagnosis, you get a new structure to your life that gives you marching orders -- surgery, therapy, et cetera.
"I was sitting there looking out the window and wishing the doctor would just be quiet," Jonrowe said.
She said she recalled another woman who was undergoing treatment telling her that then they kick you out and say, "See you in three months."
Jonrowe said nobody explained the side effects of the cancer treatment and what it was going to be like. She said she felt as though she went from surgery to oncology to the various medical scanning tests without anyone hearing what she was feeling.
"You don't feel like yourself. You don't look like yourself," she said.
"I felt, if there's a reoccurrence, I'm not going to fight it again."
That's when she said she realized she was no longer a critical issue to the doctors and the specialists who were treating her cancer.
"I was a mental issue," she said.
"That is where I see the nursing staff as being vital. They took time to take care of the whole thing: sleep, sleep study -- something I didn't even know existed."
She described her feelings as being the piece of the puzzle that was being overlooked as a critical part of her treatment.
"The continuity was the nursing staff that took care of me," Jonrowe said.
Again referring to her dog-team illustration, Jonrowe said the doctor might be the musher, directing the medical team, or the lead dog, "leading the patient through the storm," but again added that the successful treatment depends on the efforts of the entire medical team.
"As I trust my lead dog to let me know when to pass another team or to avoid a moose along the trail, I had to trust my oncologist as a doctor," Jonrowe said.
"I'm thankful to the research team. Now anything that promises a quality of life as well as efficacy means more to me," she said.
"I'm very thankful to the people in this room, that you would have someone like me from the other side of the curtain speak to you rather than a doctor or a scientist.
"Any task you do -- even the seemingly little things like bringing meds or a smile -- makes you an important member of the team."
After Jonrowe's presentation, the CPGH nurses announced their selection as this year's Nurse of the Year: Mary McDonald.
McDonald is a nurse in the Medical-Surgical Department and works in Obstetrics and as a charge nurse -- one who is often left in charge of an area.
The selection was based not only on nursing skill, but on the nurse's willingness and cheerfulness while performing his or her duties, according to Geri Ransom, who introduced each of four candidates.
Other finalists included Katie Davis, Med-Surg and charge nurse; Betsy Grant, Emergency Department; and Ken Simmons, Med-Surg.
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