When she was young, Cari Shoemaker, RN, MSN, CMSRN, CHPN, knew she wanted a career where she served others, even if she didn’t yet know that her calling would be nursing.
“My heart was gravitating toward children or towards the elderly,” she recalls.
A career in nursing provides the opportunity for Cari to serve both. However, it was her very first patient, who had breast cancer, that set the course for Cari’s work life.
“Knowing she was my first clinical patient, I was guided through her head-to-toe assessment with grace and understanding,” Cari shares. “I realized then that cancer patients were cut from a different cloth. She gave me support and comfort even though she was experiencing her own life struggle. She doesn’t know, and will never know, but I have her to thank for giving me the gentle push I needed to become the nurse I am today.”
Today, Cari serves as the clinical coordinator at Mercy Health – Fairfield Hospital on the med-surg oncology unit. It is here where she enjoys connecting with patients on a personal level. The opportunity for such connections is greater in oncology because the cancer journey often includes multiple hospitalizations.
Cari shares that her ultimate goal is to have patients say “oh, I’m glad you’re my nurse again.” When speaking to patients she admires, picking up conversations like old friends is a gift Cari never takes for granted.
“Every day they have to wake up and decide they want to fight,” Cari says. “I know that for the patients and their families, that fight is a marathon and not a sprint.”
Some days are harder than others. And it is during those hard days that Cari strives to be the patient’s friend in the fight.
“I know I can’t bear their cross for them, but I can stand beside them and help them carry it.”
Cari’s admiration extends to her teammates, whom she refers to as “some of the strongest nurses I know.” In addition to admiring their empathy and compassion, Cari also understands the mental toughness they must bring to their work.
“You have to have a lot of internal strength and courage to walk into a room knowing that the patient just got a diagnosis that will forever change their life,” Cari explains.
Cari adds that her coworkers are examples of the love specific to the nursing profession; the kind of love that extends to families and that endures regardless of outcome.
“You have to have a lot of love when you sit and hold a patient’s hand, reassuring them that you will be with them in their journey and to trust that you will do what is best for them,” Cari says. “You have to have faith that, regardless of the outcome, you did the best job you could do, that the patient received the best care they could and that the patient’s dignity was maintained throughout the entire process.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges for nurses, Cari is proud of how her team responded and adapted. As a nursing leader, Cari also was honored to help her team navigate those changes.
“Our unit was quickly transformed from a med-surg oncology unit to a respiratory progressive care unit,” Cari shares. “During the pandemic, we learned about medications that had never been given before. We saw procedures we had only heard about in textbooks. We learned to have crucial conversations around dignity and dying that we never dreamed we would need to have. Overall, the pandemic tried to break us, but we never gave up the fight and came out standing with our heads held high.”
The compassionate care provided by our dedicated nursing professionals is at the core of everything we do at Mercy Health, where nurses mean the world.
Learn more about the cancer care services we offer at Mercy Health.