Nicole Filyaw, 31, can trace her nursing roots to age 4, thanks to a photograph she has of herself at that age with her grandfather.
"I was pretending to be his nurse," she said. "I have always wanted to take care of something or somebody."
She earned her nursing degree in 2001 and first served as a floating nurse throughout the hospital.
"I fell in love with oncology," she said, citing the patients and the intimacy she is able to have with them as her reason for choosing to specialize in oncology.
Maggie Hield, 28, credits her mother with her interest in the medical field and her desire to become an oncology nurse. Her mother, who moved from the Bahamas to the United States with Hield and her siblings when Hield was 6, loved her job as a medical assistant.
In 2001, Hield's mother was diagnosed with urethral carcinoma and became a cancer patient herself, ultimately succumbing to the disease. Hield was by her mother's side for her surgery, chemo and infusions. She said she felt grateful to the "awesome nurses" who worked in oncology.
She knew she had found what she wanted to do with her life.
Both Filyaw and Hield are now nurses at the Blumenthal Cancer Center. Filyaw serves as gynecology/oncology chemo navigator; Hield serves as gynecology/oncology chemo coordinator.
Filyaw works with new patients to educate them about what treatment entails and serves as the liaison between the patient and the rest of the medical team. Hield works with patients to schedule appointments and oversees each patient's medication and symptom management.
"We are intertwined," Filyaw said. Hield added, "We talk about 100 times a day."
Both see their primary function as making sure patients do not fall through the cracks. "We are the somebody you can call who knows your situation," said Hield.
I can attest to how helpful it is to have a chemo coordinator and navigator to funnel what can seem like an avalanche of information and medical instructions to you and provide continuity in your care. The fact they are both compassionate women who exude empathy and comfort is a bonus.
The feeling is mutual: As much as their patients love and appreciate them, Filyaw and Hield say, they in turn value the relationship they develop with patients.
"We get to know them and their families," Hield said. "It's not a revolving door."
"We have a relationship with them," said Filyaw. "They become family."
The downside to this intimacy is that Filyaw and Hield feel the pain of losing a friend when patients lose their battle with cancer.
"We go to our fair share of funerals," Filyaw said.
"And we are often introduced as a member of the family," Hield said. She recalls one funeral when the deceased's spouse was comforting her. That role reversal is evident in the infusion room, too, where Hield and Filyaw often are surprised by patients' queries as to how they are doing.
I can vouch for their empathy. When I struggled with nausea and despair after my ovarian cancer diagnosis and the first round of chemo, Hield and Filyaw were by my side, tears in their eyes, vowing to do everything in their power to make it better. When they can't make it better, which fortunately for me was not the case, they do what they can to make the unbearable as bearable as possible.
"If it's curable, you go for the cure," Hield said. "But when it's not, you do what you can and try to make them as comfortable as possible."
It is hard to imagine anyone doing a better job at that than these two nurses.