April 17, 2019, Renton, Washington – Kathleen Shannon Dorcy, PhD, RN, FAAN, was awarded with the 2019 Dr. Ruth McCorkle Lectureship March 16 during the 41st Symposium of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society. She gave her lecture during a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington Hotel at Seattle’s Southport.
Kathleen, an Adrian Dominican Associate, spoke on the principle of balance in life – difficult to achieve, especially in a high-intensity profession such as oncology – and on how to build science into one’s professional life. At the end of the talk, she focused on gratitude, citing a study conducted in England in which nurses were encouraged to write in a journal every day three good experiences of that day. “You build a spirit of gratitude of all the good things in life, and you’re not as likely to feel dispirited,” Kathleen said.
“It really was an honor to receive this McCorkle Lectureship,” Kathleen said, “but it was also an honor for the people who have worked with me throughout my career. …The award tends to go to people who are mid- to late-career oncology nurses. It’s a recognition of contributions, but it’s also a recognition of the community of people who have worked with you, nominate you, and know your work.”
She compared the experience to the Academy Awards.
Kathleen’s career has taken her from the Swedish Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle, where she served in Orthopedics as a licensed practical nurse and then as a registered nurse in the hospital’s Pediatrics Department.
Earning a Master’s in Nursing, she became involved in cancer research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle as a research nurse (1989-2013) and as a staff scientist (2013-present). Since 2009 she has served at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance as Director of Research Development (2009-2015) and as Director of Clinical Nursing Research, Education, and Practice (2015-present).
In her early years as a cancer researcher, Kathleen said, hematologists pioneered treatment of children diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) with bone marrow transplants. “In 1968, 98% of children who were diagnosed with acute leukemia died, and now the survival rate is around 96%, due to use of bone marrow transplants to treat ALL.”
Kathleen moved from bedside to academic research and worked with both children and adults while teaching at the University of Washington, Tacoma Nursing Program. She developed and taught courses such as Thinking and Clinical Decision Making; Ethics in Healthcare; Knowing Health and Illness through the Arts; and Nursing Strategies for Community as Client.
Recently, Kathleen extended her care for cancer patients to the people of Uganda. In February 2018, she traveled to that country to lay the foundation for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s collaboration with the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) to train nurses to care for cancer patients. Delegations from the United States will continue to travel to Uganda to set up a curriculum for the UCI oncology nurses, enhancing the UCI nurses’ clinical capacity for early detection of cancer with timely and comprehensive treatment. Read more about the collaborative efforts here.
Oncology was not the career that Kathleen envisioned. “I set out to work in pediatrics and I loved pediatrics,” she said. But when the pediatrics unit that she led began receiving children who had had bone marrow transplants, she felt she had to leave. “I thought it would be so sad,” she said.
But before she could leave the pediatric unit, Kathleen found she was captivated at the courage of the children as they continued to play and celebrate small moments of joy in the midst of their treatments. “It was a gift of the Spirit to find myself in oncology pediatrics,” she said.
By Sister Peggy Coyne, OP
December 17, 2015, Adrian, Michigan – When I was a young nurse working in an ICU at a large teaching hospital in the Bronx, we were required to work every other holiday. I worked one Christmas Eve and had to double back on Christmas Day.
One of my patients, David, was a fairly young man who was quite ill – sick but stable. During the eight-hour shift, he talked of being a scientist. He loved astronomy and was fascinated by the universe. A little after 11:00 p.m., I said good bye to David and told him that I would see him in the morning. He said no, I would not see him, because he was going to die and a comet was coming for him. His face radiated peace as he said this.
I replied, “Comet?” He said, “Yes,” and we looked out the window where he pointed to a group of stars. In a rush to get home, I smiled and said, “I’ll see you later.”
During my drive home, I kept looking toward the sky for the comet David was sure would come for him. I saw stars and the moon, but nothing resembling a comet.
Well, in less than two hours, he was gone. When I came in at 7:00 a.m., his cubicle was indeed empty. His face and smile are with me still. Not a Christmas has passed that I do not think of David and the comet. I was gifted with his sense of internal peace. There was no struggle; he seemed to know that he would be in a safe place. The comet was his comfort.
When I hear the carol, “The First Noel,” I am struck by the words, “They looked up and saw a star.” I always say a prayer for David, who taught me to take time to look at the stars.