Johnson & Johnson Finds 'Amazing Nurse' in Reisterstown (VIDEO)
Reisterstown resident Lillie Shockney, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Center since 1997 and a nationally known breast cancer advocate, is a Johnson & Johnson 'Amazing Nurse.' (See national campaign video.)
For Reisterstown nurse Lille Shockney, the desire to help patients seemed to be innate.
“I must have subconsciously made the decision before I even started elementary school,” she said. “There’s a photo of me at age 4 wearing a nurse's uniform my mom got from the Sears and Roebuck catalog that I think was intended for Halloween but that’s what I asked Santa to bring me.”
In the photo, Shockney is holding a very large baby doll with bandages around its head. Why? Because she had just performed cranial surgery.
More than 50 years later, Shockney, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Center since 1997, was crowned “Amazing Nurse” of 2011 by Johnson & Johnson in December. (See accompanying video of the national campaign.)
“Not that all nurses aren’t amazing…” said Mary Capano, a patient navigator at the breast center, “but she is like the torch, the lighthouse of recognition for nursing.”
While Shockney oversees the breast center at Hopkins and its other cancer survivorship programs, she is also a national speaker on breast cancer and has authored 13 books and more than 200 articles. Her work has been recognized by the American Cancer Society, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Intel, the Oncology Nursing Society and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, according to a press release.
The Amazing Nurse Award, which was presented by Johnson & Johnson in December, is her 40th award, but it's one that sticks out in her mind because patients got to vote for semi-finalists. As a nurse who devotes tireless energy to improving patients’ lives, that means a lot, she said.
“I was dancing in the halls here,” she said. “This is the first time that I’ve been given an award that patients can relate to.”
A Devastating Discovery
Although nursing has always been Shockney’s calling, she acknowledges she might not be in the leadership position she is in today if she hadn't had her own bout with breast cancer--twice.
At age 38, she found a lump in her right breast.
After testing, cancer was found in her other breast, but her doctor went away for five days and Shockney said she fell into denial.
She was working at Hopkins at the time, so she decided to look at her chart before her doctor returned.
“It was just like looking at the grim reaper. I couldn’t believe this was my report,” she said. “It was like, ‘This can’t be happening.’ But it was.”
Shockney used humor to make it through treatment, and to be able to speak about cancer with her friends and family. She named her first breast prosthesis "Betty Boob."
“Humor has gotten me though some very difficult times in my life,” she said. “I’ve had tougher things than cancer I’ve dealt with in my life. I decided I had to dive into dark humor that cancer survivors travel in.”
Two years later, when Shockney needed surgery on her other breast, she told friends Betty Boob was getting a roommate.
Finding Her Place
After that challenge, Shockney wanted to work with breast cancer patients. Forty awards later, she stands firm that it was meant to be.
“Usually you don’t know why bad things happen to you, and I’ve been given the gift of knowing exactly why this happened to me,” she said. “I don’t know the biological cause, but this is my destiny. This is exactly why I was put here on this Earth.”
Since joining the breast center at Johns Hopkins, she has become an advocate for patients at the institution and nationally.
“When a patient comes in, I want them to really feel like this is the only person we’re taking care of, that we revolve around her, her whole world,” Shockney said. “Her world and ours are one.”
To that end, she considers all the needs of a cancer sufferer, not just medical.
For example, she explores her patients' issues with body image, sexuality and intimacy. She asks questions about life goals, hobbies and aspirations.
“It used to be the sole goal of cancer treatment survival – if the patient’s alive, we have been successful,” she said. “…If they are still living with all of the critical clinical outcomes as a result of the treatment, then they’re not really living.”
A Team of Survivors
Debbie Steward, a patient navigator at the breast center, considers Shockney, her boss and mentor of eight years, "a walking encyclopedia of the breast world." Although somewhat shy, Steward, also a breast cancer survivor, has spoken on breast cancer many times at Shockney’s urging.
“She sees more in me than I sometimes see, so off I go and have an incredible experience,” she said. “I’m very grateful to her for that.”
Mary Capano, also a patient navigator and breast cancer survivor, calls Shockney "the Ben Carson of breast" and refers to her as a rock star. At Johns Hopkins for about a year, she says she finally found what she didn’t know she was looking for.
"Lillie Shockney, her reputation, her work ethic, her vision, her aura is what brought me here,” Capano said.
“When you’re talking to patients and I mention to them I am a breast cancer survivor, you see the patient’s expression change,” she said. “They lean into you, their expression changes, they’re eyes widen, some of them get teary-eyed."
Capano noted that Shockney started two retreats unlike any others in the country. One is for women with metastatic breast cancer and their husbands, and another is for breast cancer patients and the women in their life, from daughters to mothers, to cousins and girlifrends.
“I’m trying hard to raise awareness about the need of individuals who have metastatic cancer, who I call the forgotten survivors,” Shockney said. She is involved in a national program that addresses the needs of these terminal patients.
The Work Never Ends
Just ask Al Shockney, Lillie’s husband, about his wife, and even he has trouble putting into words how proud he is. He said he doesn’t mind that her work never seems to be finished.
“I’ve seen her get on the phone in the middle of dinner and by the time she’s done, dinner is cold,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me because she cares.”
As Al points out, it was his wife's medical instincts that saved his life--twice.
The first time, she noticed a mole on his chest that turned out to be melanoma. The second, she returned home from a speaking engagement in Hagerstown to find her husband having throat pain. After she insisted it could be serious, it turned out he was having a heart attack.
“If she hadn’t come home, the doctor told me, ‘There’s a good chance you would have expired,’” he said.
For Shockney, helping to save lives isn't enough. Professionally, she wants to expand her advocacy for patients within the medical community.
“I want to penetrate nursing school and medical school curriculum to change the philosophy of treatment,” she said. She wants treatment to not only focus on ridding people of cancer, but on the quality of life issues she addresses with her patients.
In the meantime, she is grateful to have made it through cancer and to have a one-of-a-kind connection with her patients.
“Until you hear those words, ‘You have cancer,’ you really aren’t in touch to your core with your patient unless you have that experience and make that journey,” she said.