Minnesota Oncology nurse Laurie Montgomery understands what patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment are experiencing. A survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Montgomery has used her nursing degree and her personal experience with cancer to provide compassionate, exceptional patient care. On Thursday, February 20, Montgomery received the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s (LRF) 2014 Minnesota Hope Award, which is given annually to an individual “who has worked diligently to LRF’s mission through supporting research and outstanding patient care.”
Montgomery, who has been with Minnesota Oncology for just over two years, didn’t always dream of a career in nursing. In fact, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and worked for 10 years as a staffing recruiter and officer manager for ProStaff. But when she turned 30, she realized that career path wasn’t fulfilling. “I thought, ‘What do I want to do with the rest of my life?’” she says. The answer was nursing. “So I picked up the phone that day, and I enrolled at the St. Kate’s.”
The College of St. Catherine nursing program allowed Montgomery to go to classes on evenings and weekends while she continued to work full time during the day. While a schedule like that would be exhausting for anyone, Montgomery says that by the time she graduated in December 2006, she felt particularly run down. Soon after she graduated, she took a nursing position in orthopedics at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood.
“Then I started to lose weight, and over the summer it just got progressively worse. I had a lot of pain in my neck and a lot of my lymph nodes were swollen. I just remember lying with an ice pack on the back of my neck at work when I first started nursing. And every day I was so tired. I’d go home and go right to bed.”
After seeing many different physicians with no improvement in her health, Montgomery had a doctor as her about her eye. “I had one eye that had started to look lazy,” she said. When the doctor learned that it hadn’t always looked that way, she ordered a CT and sent Montgomery to the hospital right away for the scan.
“My sister drove me and dropped me off because I told her not to wait,” Montgomery says. “I was sure I’d be sent home again with some pain medication.”
But instead, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The tumor, it turned out, had been pressing on her eye, causing the eye to look lazy. Thankfully, Montgomery wasn’t alone for long after she received the news.
“Luckily my best friend was on her way because she knew I was there, and she didn’t want me to be alone even though I told her she didn’t need to come,” Montgomery says. “So she walked in the room about five minutes after I got the diagnosis.”
Montgomery was diagnosed in July 2007, and she underwent chemotherapy treatments through February 2008. Right after she finished therapy, she began volunteering for the Lymphoma Research Foundation. “When I was diagnosed, I knew I wanted to get involved after I finished my treatment,” she explains. “I wanted to find an organization that specifically helped patients and families and caregivers touched by lymphoma.”
She learned about the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s Lymphomathon fundraiser and since 2008 has been helping to plan and organize the annual event, which has grown every year in participation and support. In addition, Montgomery has been involved with the Love to Fund a Cure dinner event and has been on LRF’s executive committee.
“I’m so glad that I got connected to the Lymphoma Research Foundation because everyone involved in that organization is so caring and kind, and they have the same goal which is to change the lives of the patients and their families who have been touched by the disease,” Montgomery says. “A lot of survivors help to coordinate these events, so I’m able to meet and make connections with other survivors to coordinate.”
It was at Lymphoma Research Foundation’s 2014 Love to Find a Cure event that Montgomery received the foundation’s Minnesota Hope Award. According to the award letter, Montgomery was “nominated by local volunteers as a testament to your dedication to the mission of LRF both professionally and personally as a valuable member of our Minnesota Chapter. Your work at Minnesota Oncology as well as your commitment to the Lymphomathon and participation on our Executive Committee serve as proof points to your support of LRF’s mission….Your commitment to outstanding patient care and continued support of LRF’s mission to eradicate lymphoma and serve those touched by the disease exemplifies LRF’s desire to improve the lives of all lymphoma survivors and their loves ones.”
Montgomery says she was surprised and humbled when she was presented with the Minnesota Hope Award. “I feel extremely honored and proud that I’m a part of such a great organization and that I have my coworkers and the doctors at Minnesota Oncology supporting me.”
“Laurie is a very deserving recipient of the 2014 Minnesota Hope Award,” said Minnesota Oncology nurse Rhonda Hastings, who works with Laurie at the Edina Clinic. “She has worked very hard to bring awareness to the Lymphoma Research Foundation by fundraising, volunteering, being a patient advocate and supporter,” Hastings said. “In addition to being an oncology infusion nurse, she is a cancer survivor, which allows her to have a unique perspective for her patients providing them with compassionate, comprehensive care.”
Mongtomery’s own experience with cancer is actually what led her to apply for an opening at Minnesota Oncology. “I feel I can relate to a lot of the symptom management,” she says. And although she doesn’t typically share her own experience with patients, she says she is able to relate to them on an emotional level, especially by remembering her own treatment.
“I remember the names of the nurses who gave me my first treatment and who were there with me along with the way,” she says. “Cancer is a life-changing event. I feel like I’m finally finding myself after my experience with cancer,” Montgomery says. “Because you become someone different. I’m still the same old Laurie, but my perspective has changed and what I want to do with my life has changed. I feel that I’m meant to be here at Minnesota Oncology.”
Since joining Minnesota Oncology, Montgomery has floated as a chemotherapy nurse among the Burnsville, Minneapolis, and Waconia Clinics before accepting a ful- time position at the Edina Clinic in December 2013. Despite her own experience as a chemotherapy patient, she is still surprised when patients remember her name. “We aren’t always aware of how important we are in their lives,” she says, “but they come back to us and remember who gave them their first treatment and their last.”
Now that she is working full time at one clinic, Montgomery says she is enjoying the opportunity to work with patients throughout the entire treatment process. “It’s great to be able to help them through the difficult times, “ she says. “We cry with them. We laugh with them. There are so many emotions shared in the infusion room, and I’m honored that they share a part of their lives with me.”