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Trading places

Husband’s illness deepens Via Christi Cancer Institute director’s awareness of patients' and their families' needs

As an oncology nurse for more than 20 years, Keisha Humphries, RN, thought she understood what her cancer patients and their families were going through as they faced the biggest battles of their lives. She was touched by her beloved uncle’s struggle with the disease — and inspired by his caring, compassionate nurses to follow in their career footsteps.

Today, she directs the Via Christi Cancer Institute while managing the Wichita Community Clinical Oncology Program, a National Cancer Institute-funded program that brings national clinical trials to Wichita.

And just this spring, she was honored with the St. Catherine of Siena Nurse Recognition Award, for best representing the Via Christi Core Values of Human Dignity, Stewardship and Excellence.

By all accounts, she is driven to do whatever she can to improve care for cancer patients and support them and their families in their struggle.

But it wasn’t until her husband, Mark, became a patient in her unit in Wichita’s Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis that she really understood how frightened and vulnerable cancer patients and families can feel, she now says.

The education begins

Keisha’s “education,” as she calls it, began less than a year ago, after Mark developed tumorlike masses in his lungs and brain. Further tests showed it wasn’t the cancer they feared, but a seriousbut-treatable autoimmune condition, Wegener’s granulomatosis, which causes swelling of blood vessels and surrounding tissue, restricting blood flow to vital organs. To reduce the swelling and organ damage it can cause, patients are treated with steroids and low doses of chemotherapy.

Keisha was ready to pack up and travel with her husband to wherever she could find a specialist who treats this rare condition.

“But our doctors gave us a clear plan of treatment, and I knew we could get that right here at Via Christi. Our Cancer Institute staff is expert in dealing with chemo for cancer patients, so what better place for Mark to be?”

A new experience

As director of the Cancer Institute, Keisha knew the unit was designed to make long hospital stays more bearable for patients and families, with a calming, nature-inspired décor, all-private patient rooms with daybeds for overnight visitors, and family gathering rooms for watching television or movies, enjoying a meal together or just relaxing.

“I gained a new appreciation of all that once Mark got here,” she adds. “I was able to basically move in during his stay.”

But she was most impressed by the care they both received.

“We were never alone through the whole process,” she says. “The nurses and chemo
pharmacist visited with us regularly, reassuring us and telling us, ‘Here’s the plan for
today, here’s what to expect.’ That made us feel very safe and comfortable.

“I wasn’t there in my administrator role,” adds Keisha, who says she “loves it” that she was unrecognized by many of Mark’s caregivers. “I was there as a family member, feeling all the uncertainty and concern of every patient’s family member.

“And now I know firsthand what our staff does every day to make people feel cared for and comfortable here. We always say we’re the best … and now I know we are.”

Mark, who is manager of support services for 19 locations of Cancer Center of Kansas, the provider of chemotherapy services to the Via Christi facility, was equally impressed by his experience.

“Even though I’m also in the medical field,” says Mark, “I got to see the side of care you
really don’t get to see until you’re a patient. I felt what our patients are told on a daily basis so I can better relate to them in the future.”

Adds Keisha: “This started as a dark time in our lives, but we both have been blessed with a new level of empathy and understanding.”

After a brief stay in the hospital, Mark now is feeling fine and looking forward to four to
six months of outpatient chemotherapy that he expects will put his condition into remission



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