Joanna Hume, oncology nurse at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, donated breast cancer awareness cups to the Romeoville Target for distribution to its female customers. | Submitted photo
Updated: February 10, 2013 5:53PM
Ask oncology nurse Joanna Hume, 58, of Romeoville, her job description and she’s apt to tell you cheerleader, caregiver and chef, someone who serves up coffee, cookies, cake and chocolate with chemotherapy treatments.
But for this former real estate broker who was head over heels in love with her career, oncology nursing is not a midlife job switch, but a modified plan when her goal to open a freestanding hospice unit bottomed out.
Hume does not even realize she’s “going above and beyond” her job duties or the extent of the impact her efforts have on patients and other nurses, said Jeanne Arias, clinical director of oncology services at Adventist Midwest Health.
Because in addition to caring for patients, Hume helps student nurses, trains seasoned nurses for their competency exams and participates in Adventist Midwest Health’s mission trips to Costa Rica.
“She doesn’t just talk about making something happen. She does it,” Arias said. “Joanna is an amazing, giving person and it shows in everything she does.”
Hume typically brushes aside praise, content to merely be one of the conduits in which sick people find wholeness.
“Cancer is a very bad disease, but it’s not anything like it used to be,” Hume said. “A breast cancer diagnosis no longer means a woman starts planning her funeral. Some cancers are becoming more like chronic diseases. There are people who have cancer for 15 to 20 years. They are my patients and I love them.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, owning a business meant Hume could care for her mother when she fought colon cancer, her father when he battled stomach cancer and a friend who had esophageal cancer.
It also meant Hume could serve as a room mom, attend every school function and be at home when the kids left for school in the morning and returned home in the afternoon.
“I could not have done this job (nursing) and raised my family,” Hume said.
After caring for her father until his death, Hume wanted to provide that same option to others. However, in order to open a hospice center, Hume would first need a nursing degree. She researched local options, decided upon Joliet Junior College and then sold her business. In 1998, Hume graduated from the nursing program as her youngest child graduated eighth grade.
Today, Hume is an oncology nurse at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital and Adventist GlenOaks Hospital but those jobs are just the beginning of Hume’s service to cancer patients, not the end.
In October, when Hume purchased a coffee at the Starbucks in the Romeoville Target, she admired the “cool Starbucks plastic cups with straws in them” and noted their resemblance to the cups Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital had distributed last year at a golf outing for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Arias allowed Hume to gather up the remaining 250 cups and then, with permission from Kristin Andersen, executive team leader at the Target in Romeoville, to share them with customers.
“About 30 to 40 percent of my patients are breast cancer patients and so many of them are diagnosed late,” Hume said. “The number to get that screening mammogram is right on those cups.”
The hospital’s cups perfectly matched the store’s plan to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month as Laura Emmanuelli, executive pharmacist, was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. So in addition to distributing the cups at the pharmacy to women filling prescriptions, staff hosted a reception in her honor.
They decorated the break area with pink tablecloths and balloons, served pink treats and wore pink ribbons. Hume was there, too, showing her support.
Hume recently redecorated the chemotherapy area at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital since Hume felt its drab green walls and dim lighting did little to cheer patients’ spirits. In that vein, Hume began bringing in refreshments (coffee, cookies, cake and chocolate) and celebrating treatment milestones with potluck lunches for the patients.
“Patients eat sitting in reclining chairs with their hospital bed trays and their bad hair— or no hair — and their IV poles, but they’re happy,” Hume said. “Cancer does not have to be about death. It can be about treatment. I’m just there to carry the load a little bit.”