Janelle's Blog

Tribute to a Nurse

Dark Days of Breast Cancer

At 12:05 a.m. light streamed across my bed as the door opened into my hospital room. It was not unusual for nurses to come and go at all hours. I was wide awake, anyway, since I could find no peace and rest from my inner turmoil. My nearly perfect life had been wrecked by the intrusion of breast cancer. I couldn’t understand what had happened to me. Neal and I had been married 15 years, with three sons, ages 13, 10, and 3, and were about to move into a new home Neal had custom built for us. Now, one day after a mastectomy, I was picking up the pieces of my life and trying to figure out how to cope.

The nurse who entered my room had a familiar face. I knew her from my church, where she seemed quiet and reserved. For some reason our lives had not intersected except for an occasional greeting as we passed each other in the crowded foyer of the church.

That night she took my vitals, then did something that had an extraordinary impact on my life. She pulled up a chair and sat at my bedside, and without saying a word, reached across the bed to take my hand. For about five minutes, she held my hand in the semi-dark room and didn’t say a word. She was sensitive that I had cried away all of my words and had nothing more to say.

Different family members and friends had offered encouraging, sometimes clumsy words and well wishes to my broken heart. Even an occasional book was left for me, which meant nothing in this dark hour of my life. This dear lady gave me a gift of understanding and hope by not making me struggle to hold a conversation or make excuses for why such a terrible thing happened to me. With her silence, she let my soul rest and gave me comfort with her kind touch. It was like having Jesus holding my hand and enveloping me with His love.

The dark days passed and my life moved on—a life filled with family, friends, and a future. Little did I know that during my hospital stay God would drop something in my heart, a deepened compassion for humanity that started with that sweet nurse. My husband and I founded the National Breast Cancer Foundation several years later to help women who had no means of helping themselves to get free mammograms and medical assistance if they were facing breast cancer.

Kindness Lives On

A couple of years ago Neal and I were having lunch with his brother and his new wife. We knew her from years ago when we all went to the same church. In fact, Don and Debbie dated as young teens and had reconnected their love many years later through marriage. I told Debbie the story of the kind nurse, but said I couldn’t remember her name. I always wanted to tell her what her act of kindness had meant to me. Debbie’s face became somber as her mouth slightly fell open.

“That nurse was my mother, Frances Gieger,” she said. There was a stunned silence at the table. Silence again had spoken more than any words could have. Frances was no longer living, but her silence left a legacy.

How You Can Help a Friend

Why do we feel we have to fill the atmosphere with words, as though everything we say will make things right? When talking with a friend or loved one who is facing breast cancer, observe their needs and allow them to tell you what is important to them. Breast cancer has robbed so many of their hope for a future. We really don’t know why one gets breast cancer and another does not. What we do know is that early detection saves lives. Build your Early Detection Plan today as a reminder to take care of your health.

Thought for Today: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”  Mark Twain

Live Life,


Reader's Comments

6 Responses to Tribute to a Nurse
  1. Debbie Hail
    October 7, 2014 | 6:18 pm

    My mom, Frances Gieger, always wanted to be a nurse and finally got her degree in her late 30’s. She wanted to help others and leave a legacy. I’m so thankful that she was able to help you and I’m so proud to be her daughter.

  2. Blake Summers
    October 8, 2014 | 10:20 pm

    My Grammy was a saint amongst people and it took me a good long while to figure that out. As a young boy she had such an incognito impact on my life. It was only after I grew into a man that I realized what kind of person she was. I cherish every moment I ever spent with her because I know that her never ending need to help others didn’t only extend to me. Grammy was and always will be one of my heroes in life. I love you Grammy and I’m very happy that you were able to experience her in the way we all knew and loved her.

  3. Lynn Roe
    April 17, 2015 | 11:58 am

    Hi Janelle, this is the second time I have had breast
    cancer. My favorite nurse
    is Joanne Ballerini. She is one
    of my best friends still.
    I saw her (2) weeks ago.
    She is wonderful. Sincerely
    Lynn Roe

  4. Pat Fuentes Perez
    April 30, 2015 | 8:48 pm

    Dear Ms. Janelle, I thank you for putting up this blog that help people like us who are starting on our own journey in #beating cancer. After my diagnosis on March 3, 2015, I went to Google and picked out your website from a long line-up because it felt friendly and respectable, and comprehensive. Therein, I begun to understand the disease, and your NBCF website augmented to a huge extent, the few things several oncologists can only so briefly talk about.

    I am from a developing country the Philippines, and there is a lack of awareness, knowledge, and understanding of Cancer here — from Early Detection, Treatment Options all the way to Survivorship. Most of the campaigns here are on awareness, but mostly touch on superficial approaches only.

    Thanks to you, your Foundation and the important things you do and share with us digitally and beyond, I now try to look past the physicality of the disease.

    Before it happened, I had been in a race with life to get it all in. To accomplish as much in a shorter span of time. To achieve more than what is expected. I chose never to slow down; on the contrary, like most of us in modern society, I pushed myself to run ahead and overtake time. To rephrase Jordan Matter in DancersAmongUs, what could have been a light jog became a sprint.

    And “the faster we run, the less we see.” I’ve been sprinting big leaps the past three decades, over-achieving and collecting ‘big treasures but sacrificing many little gems along the way.”

    Now with this tumor in my body, I want to seize each moment, celebrate the everyday miracles, and dance while I can.

  5. Kristina Tracy
    July 31, 2015 | 5:17 pm


    I am so moved by your story. The way you described the silence and strength of love, when there are no words is just what I needed to hear today.


  6. Sharon Conner, RN
    June 9, 2016 | 10:38 am

    As a nurse and mother, I am touched by you and your inspiration! Thank you for sharing your admiration for nurses, especially the one exceptional nurse, Frances. Nurse like her make me feel proud to be a nurse too. I am moved by your determination in helping other women. A friend and a 3x breast cancer survivor created the KILI medical drain carrier that provides dignity after surgery. I love learning about a patient’s aspirations. Thank you for making a difference!

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