It was early November when Martha Keochareon called the nursing school at Holyoke Community College, her alma mater. She had a proposal, which she laid out in a voice mail message.
“I have cancer,” she said after introducing herself, “and I’m wondering if you’ll need somebody to do a case study on, a hospice patient.”
Perhaps some nursing students “just want to feel what a tumor feels like,” she went on. Or they could learn something about hospice care, which aims to help terminally ill people die comfortably at home.
“Maybe you’ll have some ambitious student that wants to do a project,” Ms. Keochareon (pronounced CATCH-uron) said after leaving her phone number. “Thank you. Bye.”
Kelly Keane, a counselor at the college who received the message, was instantly intrigued. Holyoke’s nursing students, like most, learn about cancer from textbooks. They get some experience with acutely ill patients during a rotation on the medical-surgical floor of a hospital. They practice their skills in the college’s simulation lab on sophisticated mannequins that can “die” of cancer, heart attacks and other ailments. But Ms. Keochareon, 59, a 1993 graduate of Holyoke’s nursing program, was offering students something rare: an opportunity not only to examine her, but also to ask anything they wanted about her experience with cancer and dying.
“She is allowing us into something we wouldn’t ever be privy to,” Ms. Keane said.
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