A Mother’s Recollection of a UCSF Medical Center Cancer Ward and its Compassionate Nurses

Steven Rodriguez was nineteen years old attending college in California when he began to have severe headaches. A recent article from the UCSF Science Center gives an account of Steven’s care at the Center and the compassion shown by its dedicated nurses.

The headaches first occurred in 2013. Steven was seen by several doctors who were unable to find the cause or to prevent the headaches. Later that year Steven was rushed to the ER, was sent home, and fainted before he could get to his apartment.

After again visiting several doctors and receiving no diagnosis or treatment, Steven’s mother, Alex, flew down to his apartment in Southern California, and they decided that he should return to their home in Marin County.

Steven was barely able to walk as he was heavily sedated. After being home just a few hours Alex and Steven again rushed to the ER.

As the doctors began preparation to release Steven, Alex insisted that he be given a CT scan. Alex continued her demands, but since Steven was not a minor, she was firmly escorted to the waiting room.

While she was waiting for Steven to be discharged her husband arrived. He had received a phone call from the hospital. The doctor went ahead with a CT scan. Steven did not want Alex to be alone when she was told that he had a seven-centimeter tumor in his brain.

Shortly thereafter Steven had surgery to remove the tumor. The surgery lasted seven hours. The tumor was identified as an extremely aggressive cancer called atypical teratoid/rhabdoid.

Alex sent out an angel alert to her community, and several people responded that they should go to the UCSF medical center. UCSF staff told them to come there for treatment, or Steven will die.

Steven arrived at the UCSF Benioff Hospital on June 17th. He documented his time at the hospital in heart-breaking videos for family and friends.

Steven died on October 17th.

The UCSF Nurses And Their Exceptional Care

Their mission is to support patients and their families by communicating and giving emotional support. Steven’s case presented additional challenges. Alex learned that Steven’s case was one of the most difficult, including his having IV infusions of twenty-six different drugs.

Alex wants the nurses to know how grateful the Rodriguez family is for the dedication of the hospital staff.

Steven received very aggressive chemotherapy and radiation resulting in extreme fatigue and pain. Alex recounts how the night nurse would tiptoe into Steven’s room with a small flashlight to carefully check his vitals without disturbing his sleep.

One of the nurses made a special effort to share similar interests with Steven when she learned he was a theater major at SoCal.

Alex talks about the many nights when Steven would be coughing up blood and how frightened she was. The night nurse would console her, as at times, Alex cried uncontrollably. Sometimes the nurse would cry with her. One weekend a nurse called the hospital from her home to check on his condition.

When Steven was in ICU and not doing well the nurses from another floor would come in and sit with him. Alex realized the long hours the nurses worked, and the family often wondered how and when they were even able to have lunch or dinner.

A Compassionate Nurse Manager

The nurse manager gave her own version of Alex, who she lovingly called a momma bear. She said that she and Alex developed a rapport and that Alex had an impact on her. Especially when Alex apologized one night for the tone she used when it was perfectly understandable that her son was in pain, and she would be protective.

A Coordinated Effort

The care team realized that something was not working for Steven, as they could not find the right formula to treat his pain. A consultant was called in to analyze the effect the radiation was having on his skin. She worked with Steven’s team and even brought in a nurse from the radiation oncology department. Together they developed a special dressing that alleviated most of his pain.

Alex wants to express her gratitude to the entire group of nurses who attended to her son Steven with so much empathy. She believes that a nurse has to be a special person to understand the needs of a patient and the patient’s family.

Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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