“This job is a blessing”: Oncology nurse finds hope in patients’ cancer battle

Kelli Krutsinger wins Daisy Award

Patients can inspire you, connections with patients are another form of caregiving  

After a long day at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, a patient and her daughter were exhausted. Kelli Krutsinger, RN, helped get them and their belongings out to their car, laying the foundation for a months-long relationship between patient and nurse. 

“When patients come to us, fear is their number one emotion because cancer is scary,” Krutsinger says. “I try to establish a relationship, just talk with the patient and try to be as normal as possible. I ask them about their kids, their weekend plans, and then I just listen.” 

Escorting a patient to lunch or to their car may not seem like the responsibility of an oncology nurse, but for Krutsinger, it’s just another level of care. 

“It is my responsibility to keep patients comfortable, to make sure they feel safe, and to know that we’re here to care for them,” she says. “I tell every patient that even though they're calling the cancer center’s triage line, they can say, I want to talk to Kelli.” 

"It is my responsibility...”  

This family later nominated Krutsinger for a DAISY Award. But that sort of recognition, and the admiration that can come with it, never crossed her mind. 

"She hadn't been sleeping because she was having trouble breathing,” Krutsinger says. “So, I set up her room, turned off all the lights, got them blankets and pillows and said, ‘I’ll set a timer on my watch and come get you for lunch.’” 

Krutsinger immediately knew this was going to be one of those days where the care the patient needed was beyond any acute symptoms or treatments. 

“I take this job as a blessing because I really lucked out that I get to be in this clinic with these patients and these co-workers. I feel like I’ve elevated my care and become a better nurse,” Krutsinger says. 

Honoring the fight  

Krutsinger says the connection between oncology nurse and patient lasts beyond the end of care. Some of her favorite moments come when she sees a patient in the halls or when they share a success story with her, no matter how big or small.  

To her, part of being a great nurse is having a positive attitude but it’s also finding lessons in the bad times while honoring the patients who gave it all the fight they had.  

"When a patient passes, I think it’s important that we know it’s okay to grieve too. We were there when they were fighting and I think it’s important to honor that,” she says. “I’ve cried with families at visitations. I tell them, ‘I may not have known them nearly as long as you, but they were special to us too.’” 

To honor those patients and the bond formed with their care team, Krutsinger says the cancer center has a program set up to deliver cards from the team to a patient’s family if their loved one passes away.  

“It’s all about closure and honoring the fight. I’ve had families say, ‘You know, you're the only one that knew everything we went through on this journey. All the tests and all the little pokes and all that kind of stuff, you're the only one that knows that,’” Krutsinger says. “I’m blessed to get to do what I do.”