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“I feel her strength, and because of Lorelei — the way she makes me feel comfortable and confident; the way she cares deeply for me, her other patients and colleagues; and her always professional attitude and manner — I realize that, like other obstacles, I will eventually be able to face this, too,” writes one nurse’s patient in an essay nominating her for CURE®’s 2022 Extraordinary Healer award.
Lorelei Graham, CRNP, leans toward me. We are inside the examination room at the Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine in Philadelphia. It is cool and familiar here, though outside it is a scorching hot July day in 2020.
Deep in the first wave of COVID-19, we are both face-covered and distanced even in this small, windowless room. With her feet firmly planted, she holds me in her sympathetic gaze. I’m here for my Herceptin (trastuzumab) treatment every three weeks, but just an hour earlier, my father died. He had contracted COVID-19 just three weeks prior.
Lorelei does not take her eyes off me. She does not try to move along with my appointment or enter notes. She calmly invites me to cry and patiently waits.
Penn Medicine oncologist Dr. Kevin Fox, a longtime colleague and friend, says, “Lorelei has an endless supply of compassion, grace and empathy. If she ever has a bad day, I haven’t seen one in 10 years.” And it is true.
Lorelei, a self-proclaimed horrible multitasker, has been by my side for almost 10 years. When I first received a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer at 40, Lorelei did not fill me with false platitudes to make me feel better. She skillfully guided me through a radical right breast mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction surgery, listened to my litany of complaints during each devastating round of chemotherapy and helped me to navigate my new life on tamoxifen.
Then when I received a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer at the end of 2019, Lorelei was there. Yes, she was there to calm me. Yet, more importantly, she was there to help me to understand my treatment plan and its potential side effects, and to assure me that I was going to be able to manage my metastatic diagnosis one day at a time.
“Lorelei is such a kindhearted soul and really takes the time to get to know you and what is going on with you. She has made me feel so special so many times just by helping me out as if I am one of her patients. I am blessed every day to be able to work by her side, and she is by far the most extraordinary nurse I have ever come across!” says Danielle Moyer, an administrative assistant at Penn Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Lorelei’s other Penn Medicine colleagues agree. They know she has “so much experience” and is an “asset to the team.” They can always “turn to her with questions,” and there is no question that she “goes the extra mile to provide support to all of her patients.” And her patients concur, saying she is “extremely capable and knowledgeable,” “attentive” and “thorough and compassionate.”
When I am able to stop crying, Lorelei inches slightly toward me and gently asks if she can hold my hands. I say, “Yes.” I feel her strength, and because of Lorelei — the way she makes me feel comfortable and confident; the way she cares deeply for me, her other patients and colleagues; and her always professional attitude and manner — I realize that, like other obstacles, I will eventually be able to face this, too.
Dr. Fox echoes me and all of Lorelei Graham’s patients: “There is no one on earth like her.”
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