FEATURE | Posted Nov. 18, 2016

Healer Extraordinaire

Grateful patient's essay honors UC Davis "incomparable" oncology nurse

Grateful patient Luke G. Conley III at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center with licensed vocational nurse Lilia Torres, whom he nominated for an Extraordinary Healers award.
Lilia Torres, a licensed vocational nurse at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, was surprised to learn how much oncology patient Luke G. Conley III appreciated her care.

In his 78 years, Luke Conley III has seen his share of medical providers. At UC Davis alone, where he has been a patient since 2002, the numbers of technicians, pharmacists, nurses and doctors he’s encountered are too many to count. So when he was challenged to nominate an oncology nurse for Cure Magazine’s “Extraordinary Healers” award, he could only think to embrace them all.

“Everyone from the receptionists who check me in to the nursing assistants who take the vital signs to the RNs and the LVNs – they have all treated me like I am something special,” he said.

In a move that may seem ironic to some, Conley ultimately zeroed in on the person who most often pokes him with needles: Lilia Torres, a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) who has been at the cancer center giving injections for three years. About her, he wrote an elegantly worded essay entitled “My Incomparable Nurse, Lilia.”

Moved to tears after Conley presented her with the published essay, Torres said she was simply doing her job, which she views as an opportunity to take care of people as she would her own family. An immigrant from the Philippines, she said, she didn’t have that chance with her own parents before they died back home. “Now, I think of my patients as my parents,” she said.

Giving shots with kindness

Lilia “makes it possible for her patients, including me, to look forward to being infused or injected with the syringes bearing lifesaving medications, chemicals and compounds.”

— Luke G. Conley III

In his nominating essay, Conley described Torres as someone “who makes it possible for her patients, including me, to look forward to being infused or injected with the syringes bearing lifesaving medications, chemicals and compounds.”

She does that, he explained, by always managing “to deliver a cheerful greeting, an uplifting smile, a gentle reassuring touch to the arm and sometimes a comforting hug to those undergoing treatment.”

Conley’s wife, Reggie, added that in addition to being personal, the nurse is always very professional.

“Everything with her is black and white; she’s precise,” she said. “And she doesn’t take her car keys and run to the door at 5 p.m. If she started with you, she makes sure no one drops the ball.” Conley’s essay was included in a book published by Cure Media Group, along with two professional photographs of himself with Torres.

Going to battle against cancer

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he served as an airborne radar technician, Conley was exposed to the toxic solvent benzene. He blames prolonged, daily exposure to the chemical for his disease: myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer in which the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells.

Now the fight is for his own survival. Treatment for Conley’s illness involves injections of medications five days a week to promote both red and white blood cell growth. He also recently began treatment with a drug that switches on genes that stop cancer cell growth and division and reduces the number of abnormal blood cells.

Conley said he’s grateful for the years the care that all of his nurses and doctors at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center have allowed him to have, giving him time to create art and music and enjoy life. Conley hopes his cancer goes into remission and that a cure will someday be found for his disease. Until then, he said, he’ll keep coming for his injections from Torres and “do as I’m told.”