“Six of my eight family members got cancer when I was in my early twenties,” critical care nurse, Stephanie Wrightsman, RN, wrote as her answer to a question posed to new employees at Hillcrest South: what is your why? “Three lived, three died. The nurses that cared for my loved ones had a huge impact on my bereavement and the well‐being of my family. I wanted to give back and return the good they did for us, so I went back to school in my thirties and got a second degree in nursing.”
Stephanie was 24 and a recent University of Tulsa graduate with a degree in psychology when her mother’s breast cancer returned after 12 years in remission. She died in Stephanie’s arms within 36 hours of being diagnosed after suffering a cardiac complication following her first chemotherapy treatment. “One year later, I went back to the hospital on a Friday night to see if I could find the nurse that cared for my mother,” Stephanie recalls. “I thanked her and told her, ‘One of these days I’m going to do what you do.’”
Stephanie’s dad fought six years before losing his battle to cancer. Her oldest brother, a father of seven, died at the age of 52 after losing his fight against multiple myeloma. Stephanie then witnessed her other brother take on stage three renal cell carcinoma in his early 30s and win. He remains in remission 17 years later, as does her sister, who has been cancer-free for 13 years since being diagnosed with breast cancer in her thirties.
Throughout this tumultuous period, Stephanie recognized the role nurses played in healing and hope for her and her family. “The nurses make all the difference in a time of crisis,” she affirms. “I learned what not to do as much as I learned what to do.” Stephanie made a declaration to become a nurse. More than a decade later, on April 9, 2004, her commitment to pursue nursing intensified in a single, unearthing event.
A mother of two, Stephanie kept her sons home from school on Good Friday. Thursday night they stayed up watching a movie and fell asleep in her room at the opposite end of the house from their bedroom above the garage. That night Stephanie’s car, parked in the garage, ignited unexpectedly. A fire engulfed the boys’ bedroom and spread throughout the house. “We lost everything,” Stephanie shares, “but my boys were safe. That is when I knew that I needed to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Stephanie enrolled in nursing school to pursue her purpose and passion. “It is such a gift to be a nurse,” she states proudly. “It is a ministry. I share my story with many of my patients and other nurses. My story is a story of hope. There is always hope.”
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