HOLYOKE, Mass. (AP) — Martha Keochareon gave throughout her life. As a mother and then a nurse, she supported those around her. In the last days of her life she became a teacher, helping two nursing students from Holyoke Community College understand the medical lessons of the pancreatic cancer she suffered from. And more importantly, she offered them a chance for a close-up experience with someone close to death.
Born and raised in Holyoke, Keochareon attended the nursing program at the college when she was in her 40s. Keochareon, who was profiled in a New York Times story in January about her work with HCC, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. She died Dec. 29.
In November of last year, Keochareon called the college and left her offer in a voice message. In a voice made reedy by the tumors around her neck, Keochareon introduced herself as an alumna of the school.
“I have cancer, and I’m wondering if you’ll need somebody to do a case study of a hospice patient,” said Keochareon, who was receiving hospice care in her home. “Maybe some nurses just want to feel what a tumor feels like or all the problems that go along with hospice.”
Kelly Keane, the counselor in the nursing program who received the message, was immediately intrigued. She met with Keochareon and began to talk with professors and administrators about the possibility.
In order to work with Keochareon, students would need to miss the clinical rotations that are typically required in the nursing program, so Keane set out to find a student with prior medical experience. A professor recommended Michelle Elliot, 52, a first-year nursing student who is already a licensed practical nurse and is working toward becoming a registered nurse.
When Elliot met with Keane to discuss the project, her friend and fellow nursing student Cindy Santiago, 27, sat outside the office, eagerly hoping to be invited to join. In the end, both Elliot and Santiago worked with Keochareon.