Cancer survivor forms decade-long friendship with Hollings infusion nurses

November 12, 2021
Gary and infusion nurses
A diagnosis of stage 3 anaplastic astrocytoma started a decade-long friendship between Frank Gary and his infusion nurses. Photo provided

Nicole Meiklejohn, R.N., always keeps a special binder in her office. The MUSC Hollings Cancer Center infusion nurse calls it her ‘happy things’ binder – it is full of pictures, letters and gifts patients have given to her over the years. Each of the keepsakes has a special place in her heart, reminding her of why she does what she does. But one patient comes to mind when asked about a special bond that was formed in the infusion suite years ago – the friendship with Frank Gary.

“We get former patients that come back to visit us and thank us for all we did. But without fail, Mr. Gary has visited us at least once a year for the past 12 years,” Meiklejohn said. “That means a lot to me. I always look forward to seeing him.”

Nicole Meiklejohn, R.N. 
Nicole Meiklejohn, R.N.

Helping people and making a positive impact has always been something Meiklejohn has wanted to do. She still has a picture of her first Halloween costume when she was only 3 years old – that year, she went as a nurse. Ever since then, nursing has been her passion.

“I always wanted to be involved in oncology and help care for patients going through really difficult times. I think the patients we see in the infusion suite are some of the kindest, most grateful people you will ever meet,” she said. “It’s an honor to be with them and be able to share in both the good and bad moments.”

The bond formed between Meiklejohn and Gary is renewed twice a year when he makes the eight-hour round trip to Hollings for follow-up MRIs from his home in Statesboro, Georgia. The Citadel graduate and civil engineer doesn’t mind the drive – to him, Hollings feels like home.

“Every time I go back, it reminds me just how important the nurses and doctors at Hollings Cancer Center have been in assisting me to live my life with purpose today,” Gary said.

In 2009, Gary was diagnosed with stage 3 anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer. He had a craniotomy and one year of oral chemotherapy at Duke Cancer Center before transferring his care to Hollings Cancer Center for radiation, infusion chemotherapy and immunotherapy. This past summer, he celebrated 12 years without any further growth of a tumor or cancer.

“I think about our patients who get to ring the bell at the end of their treatment. That moment never gets old. We all get excited, and other patients in the suite also celebrate. It can definitely be emotional but being able to celebrate with a patient is what it is all about.”
— Dorothy Heath

“After the treatment was over, I went through PTSD and found some relief by going to counseling,” he said. “Eventually, I learned how to deal with everything through faith and relationships in my life. That was one of the wonderful things about the infusion nurses at Hollings. Every time I went there the nurses would greet me with a smile and wanted to know how I have been since my last visit. It was obvious that they care about each and every patient.”

To this day, Gary still describes the nurses in Hollings’ infusion suite as members of his family. “They mean the world to me. They have huge hearts. I really knew I was in great hands because of how they treated me with unconditional love.” 

Infusion nurse Dorothy Heath 
Dorothy Heath, R.N.

These unique bonds formed during difficult treatments in the infusion suite at Hollings are meaningful to patients and nurses alike. Hollings infusion nurse Dorothy Heath, R.N., specifically chose to be an oncology nurse because of the patients.

“We see people at some of their lowest moments who may be scared about what they are going through,” Heath said. “Being able to be there for these patients and guide them through it is a big driving factor in why I do what I do.”

Unlike Meiklejohn, Heath didn’t always know she wanted to be a nurse. However, ever since joining the infusion team at Hollings earlier this year, Heath said co-workers and patients have become like family. She said the moments she shares with patients stick with her.

“I think about our patients who get to ring the bell at the end of their treatment,” she said. “That moment never gets old. We all get excited, and other patients in the suite also celebrate. It can definitely be emotional but being able to celebrate with a patient is what it is all about.”

Gary calls the infusion nurses he had unsung heroes. He said going back to visit them is the least he can do for all they did for him during his cancer journey. Again, this Thanksgiving, he knows that he has a lot to be thankful for – his life, health and these friendships.

“I don’t know how I would have gotten through my treatment emotionally and spiritually without my nurses and doctors,” Gary said. “They always reminded me not to lose hope and faith. They don’t always get the recognition they deserve, but I’ll never forget what they have given to me.”

About the Author

Josh Birch
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center

Keywords: Cancer