The Cancer Healer and Educator Patients Want by Their Side



The patient was starting his retirement, on the verge of enjoying well-earned travel and time together with his wife. No one expected a cancer diagnosis to halt his plans, but it did, and he and his spouse were overwhelmed and deeply distressed. It took the understanding and compassion of Kelly Davey, NP, to see the couple through their ordeal, which, despite multiple attempts at treatment, did not end as hoped.

In the midst of her grief and devastation, the patient’s wife reached out to Kelly, thanking her for her professionalism and her kindness during her husband’s difficult last days. In her note, she touched on moments of laughter and bonding that they managed to evoke despite the situation, the feeling of never being rushed, and the genuine caring they experienced with Kelly at their side. This experience profoundly affected Kelly. It reinforced that she was meant to be an oncology nurse, combining her love for science with her innate talent for connecting with people, even during their most challenging times.

Kelly believes she was called to oncology nursing — and as a physician who works closely with her, I can tell you that’s true. As a young nursing student, Kelly’s fascination with science, biology and solving complex medical issues first drew her to the profession. And an opportunity to volunteer at a hospital during her undergraduate years in San Diego convinced her that there was no other path for her.

After graduating from nursing school, Kelly spent the first years of her career on the East Coast, including caring for patients at a federally qualified health center on the Lower East Side of New York City. That gave her fresh insights into the necessity for holistic care. She learned that she was there not just to administer treatments but to help patients with their support systems and their families and manage the social determinants of good health. “I gained an appreciation for how people must often deal with many aspects of their health — from having a caregiver to transportation and other challenges,” she says.

We were fortunate to have Kelly join us at City of Hope just before we opened City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in Irvine, California. It was immediately clear to me and my colleagues that Kelly was a compassionate, highly skilled and deeply committed professional. She was also a natural at assisting with complex procedures, such as bone marrow biopsies.

Being part of the research community at City of Hope also intrigues Kelly. “The clinical trials, and to be listed on some of the studies, are exactly what I need as a lifelong learner and healer,” she says. “I am thrilled to contribute to the advancement of the field.”

Additionally, Kelly has found a new role as a patient educator. “Many patients are in shock and overwhelmed,” she says. “It’s all new to them, so I am their guide, taking them through their treatment plan, letting them know what to expect, and breaking things down to make sure that they understand how we can move forward.” As Kelly describes, she is the point person who patients and families can count on when they have questions or just need reassurance about all that they are experiencing.

Reflecting on her career so far, Kelly has shared that she is grateful that she has remained in cancer care. And now, she pursues this path for personal reasons. She lost an uncle to the disease, an experience that deepened her commitment to her work. She now fully understands the profound impact she can have on the lives of patients with cancer and their families, and she is determined to make a positive difference. She does this for her beloved Orange County community and, as the mother of two small children, for the next generation that she hopes will be cancer-free.

Sometimes, there are days when Kelly’s 2-year-old daughter wants to know why her mom needs to go to work. Kelly explains that there are people who are sick and need her care, but she knows there is only so much children can comprehend. When her children are older, Kelly will explain the importance of her profession and how it can have a transformative impact on people’s lives.

Often, Kelly reflects on the couple who expected to start their carefree retirement before receiving a cancer diagnosis. She knows that by combining her talents as a provider, educator, advocate and compassionate healer, she made an impact on their lives. Although their journey didn’t unfold as hoped, they always felt heard, acknowledged, deeply cared for and that they were in the best hands. This level of commitment to providing such exceptional care is what drives Kelly and will continue to make her one of nursing’s absolute best.

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