BANGOR, Maine — As a veteran nurse who regularly cared for people stricken with cancer, Kim Fitzpatrick has always had a lot of sympathy for her patients and their families.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, going through chemotherapy, and making a full recovery, she now has a lot of empathy for them as well.
The staff at St. Joseph Hospital threw Fitzpatrick an emotional surprise party late Friday morning not only to celebrate her recovery and return to work, but also the donation of five iPads to the hospital’s infusion therapy center by her husband and two sons.
“I’ve worked at St. Joe’s for 15 years, so to be able to see both sides of the picture is very special to me,” said Fitzpatrick, who lives with her husband Andy and twin sons John and Joshua in Veazie. “I think as a nurse, you think you’re being compassionate to somebody, but really, to understand what it’s like on the other side, you don’t know for sure until you’re in that position, sitting there.
“Now I try to be more aware of how someone’s feeling and stop, and be in the moment — be in that moment.”
Friday offered another moment everyone crowded into the Chapman conference room wanted to be in: a surprise party during which Fitzpatrick’s husband and sons presented St. Joseph’s with iPads for use by infusion center patients and their families. Infusion refers to administration of medical treatment by needle or catheter.
“We have a large number of younger people going through infusions and they don’t want to flip through magazines we don’t keep updated, and they get bored with TV, but most everyone knows how to manage an iPad,” Kim Fitzpatrick said.
Andy Fitzpatrick — who wrote and published a book about the family’s experiences with Kim’s cancer battle titled “Why Mom?” — came up with the iPad idea and used proceeds from sales of his book to pay for them.
“I kind of kept a journal while my wife was getting treated. That was my therapy, really,” said Andy Fitzpatrick, Trenton plant manager for boat manufacturer The Hinckley Co. “Afterward, I thought maybe I should go back and do something with it.”
It took about 15 months to go from first draft to first publication.
“I’d always had an idea to someday do a book, and this kind of gave me a chance to bundle it all into one project,” he said. “Then as we started making money on it, I decided I’d have to pay it back somehow.”
Andy Fitzpatrick, who had to stop a couple of times as emotion got the better of him — and most of the 30 people assembled around him — during a speech at the surprise party Friday, said he got the iPad idea while watching his 10-year-old twin sons play video games.
“They were busy playing games and their attention really wasn’t there, and you look at how involved they were with them,” he recalled. “And I’d be sitting in the room with her at the hospital with nothing but the television, so that got me thinking.”
The Fitzpatrick twins said their iPods took their minds off their worries.
“It was kind of like stress-relieving because you could kind of forget about everything and play games,” said Joshua Fitzpatrick.
Kim Fitzpatrick, 41, said her eight-month cancer battle now seems like a lifetime ago.
“I was diagnosed in June 2009, had surgery in July 2009, had another procedure in August, and started my chemo treatments Sept. 1, 2009, and I finished my treatments in November,” she recalled. “Then I started radiation in December and finished that in late January 2010. Since then I’ve just had to do follow-up visits.”
Fortunately, Kim Fitzpatrick heeded her primary care physician’s suggestion to get a mammogram a year early.
“When Kim turned 39, her provider urged her to do a mammogram early and they caught something,” said Kassie Zeigler, St. Joseph Healthcare’s director of community networks and foundation. “There was no family history, no reason to do it a year early, but they caught something.”
John Fitzpatrick recalled being confused and scared by his mom’s illness.
“It was kind of scary because I was wondering what was happening,” he said. “She wasn’t at the house a lot because she was at the hospital and dad was taking care of us, which was kind of weird for me.”
It was weird for the entire family.
“I think it was an awakening time for all of us,” said Andy Fitzpatrick. “I lost my job with Lemforder in the economic downturn, so I was in the process of feeling sorry for myself and thinking we at least had my wife’s job as a nurse, but then she was diagnosed 10 days later.
“I had to pitch in at home and really got a new perspective on what she did with the kids and all at the house, and I had no time or reason to feel sorry for myself anymore.”
The irony and significance of Kim Fitzpatrick’s story was not lost on the family, friends and co-workers attending Friday’s party.
“This is a happy ending story and that’s what we wanted to celebrate,” Zeigler said. “It’s a reversal of fortunes that ended up being a blessing that we’re lucky to share with them.”