Listening with the Heart
● By Alesha Damerville
By Kendall Yeager
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS-"She taught me everything I know about how to be an empathetic nurse, and an empathetic friend," says Terri Chapman, Cancer Care Nurse Navigator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
"The first time I was on-call as a hospice nurse, I had just finished a 12-hour shift and got a call that a patient had passed in Craig," Chapman recalls. "I called Jan and told her I needed help. She picked me up and walked me through the process."
Her patients receive the same treatment: "Each patient that crosses Jan's path is treated like they are the only patient in the world," Chapman says.
After nearly 30 years the last eight as the Director of Cancer Services at YVMC – Fritz has seen every phase of cancer care in the Yampa Valley. Her local experience began at Routt Memorial Hospital in the early 1990s, when an oncologist came from Denver once each month.
With the opening of YVMC's Jan Bishop Cancer Center, many years of planning have come to fruition. The center is part of a14,000-square-foot addition at YVMC, and includes private and semi-private spaces for treatment, heated massage chairs and a soothing aesthetic. The focus of the space is on the patient something that Fritz believes in deeply.
Fritz always knew she was going to be a nurse. She worked as an aide throughout high school, then received her bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing. She has worked in nearly all areas of medicine, including psychiatric and gastrointestinal units, emergency departments, even teaching in a four-year nursing program. But her personality has always been suited for cancer care.
"I like the longevity of relationships," Fritz says. "People's lives are in the community, and I want to help keep them there."
Fritz takes her role as an advocate and partner in treatment seriously. She was instrumental in starting the local hospice program at Northwest Colorado Health (then Northwest Colorado VNA) in 1993. As part of this work, she saw the challenges patients and families face as they near the end of life. It is unfamiliar territory, and patients are understandably nervous.
"They're suddenly in a situation where everything the terminology, the people everything is new and it's scary," Fritz says. "My job is to make them comfortable and ensure that patients have all the information they need."
There might not be anyone more suited for that role.
"Sometimes you have to ask the hard questions and get patients to open up," Fritz says. "Often, what they want to know is more than what they are asking, and you have to listen for that. It's about listening with your heart."
In her spare moments, Fritz plays the piano and organ; you can often hear her at St. Paul's Episcopal Church or Concordia Lutheran Church. I usually only get in a quick 'Thank you' before Jan is running off to her next commitment, says Reverend Catie Greene of St. Paul's. We don't always see her, but she provides a very real presence through her fingertips. Fritz is a quiet, confident giver.
Fritz is also an avid seamstress, currently working on a variety of projects for her first grandson in Seattle.
But, if you think Fritz is ready to slow down after 46 years of nursing, think again. She already has plans for what is next at the Cancer Center, including a summer program for youth with art and music therapy. There are still some things I want to do, she says. "I will always be around, caring for patients."