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The Ultimate Recognition—Honor at Home

McCorkle, Ruth PhD, RN, FAAN

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doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000601
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On, Friday, December 22, 2017, my cancer center director, Dr Charles Fuchs, called to tell me that I was to receive the Yale's Cancer Center Lifetime Achievement Award on January 8, 2018. Honestly, I didn't think I heard him correctly, but in fact, he repeated his words, and the magnitude of this honor for me, for my school of nursing, and cancer nurses everywhere began to sink in. I have always believed when a nurse is singled out for recognition it is really a celebration of all nurses and what we do. A lifetime achievement award is given in recognition of a person's lasting contributions over an entire career, including national and global influences. Previous recipients of this award have been pharmacologists, basic scientists, radiation scientists, surgeons, and medical oncologists including last year's recipient, Dr Vince DeVita. Up until this year, no nurse scientist has been included.

In the United States, the National Cancer Institute advances its goal of reducing cancer morbidity and mortality through scientific research, cancer prevention, and innovative cancer treatment and palliative care through the designation of comprehensive cancer centers. Yale Cancer Center (YCC) is 1 of 49 centers. For over 60 years, Yale has been known for its pioneering efforts of developing modern-day chemotherapy and other drug therapies. The first anticancer agent, nitrogen mustard, was administered at Yale. Today, scientists and clinicians at YCC are collaborating to design and develop the latest cancer treatments and combination therapy for patients across the full spectrum of cancer care.

Before joining the faculty at Yale University in 1998, my first visit to YCC occurred in late 1984 for the cancer center's site visit of its second renewal grant application. I was assigned as the leader to report on the conditions of the animal labs. You might think this a strange assignment for a nurse scientist, but in all honesty, I had worked on a surgical thoracic team in the early 1960s, and we spent our evenings and weekends doing surgery on dogs in preparation for procedures with humans. I was an operating room nurse and helped with the animals' recovery and euthanized them when it was time. How researchers cared for their laboratory animals and disposed of their bodies told a lot about the researchers' integrity and commitment, along with their commitment to the requirements for safe and sanitary conditions. Such personal commitments were not because of regulations and polices as we did not have such during that time period.

From day 1 as a graduate nurse, I have always worked on a team, and as a team member I have always been treated as an equal partner and been valued for my participation and unique perspectives. I volunteered as an Air Force nurse during the Vietnam War and went to graduate school afterward on the GI bill. At the University of Iowa, where more than 75% of patients were admitted with cancer or for cancer diagnostic testing, no one seemed to want to sign up to be a cancer nurse. After seeing so many young men die suddenly during war, I thought how wonderful to have an opportunity to talk with patients and find out about their hopes and dreams. I was hooked. My experiences in the military prepared me well to talk with patients and families about unspeakable topics and to sit with them quietly during all their uncertainty. My 45 years in oncology as an advanced practice nurse have been devoted to helping patients recognize, report, monitor, and intervene with their symptoms so they can remain as functional as possible. The essence of helping patients live and manage cancer is the relationship we form with them and their families that builds trust and commitment to carry on.

I want to commend the selection committee for recognizing me and my work as it underscores the importance of the team to our care at the YCC and throughout the world. It tells me we are valued for the management of the patients' quality of life as equally important as treating the patients' cancer. We are on the frontiers of new therapies along with unimaginable toxicities, and we need to continue to build our nursing research to help patients and families manage and live with the life-altering changes. There has never been a more exciting time to be in cancer nursing and experience what is happening in these revolutionary times. We have a significant body of evidence-based practice to build on. There is no doubt in my mind that my research and contributions are alive and growing through the actions of so many nurses around the globe. I am truly humbled to receive this award and have my name added to the permanent plaque visibly acknowledging a nurse scientist among the recognized scientists for lifetime contributions at YCC.

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