Colleen Bayer was born while her mother, Kathryn Lechner, completed nursing school.
Perhaps it’s serendipitous that years later, as Bayer decided her own path, she turned to nursing. Their careers brought them closer together – and now the bond is stronger than ever because mother and daughter have ended up working at the Wilmot Cancer Center.
Lechner, R.N., B.S., MSEd, works as Nurse Navigator in the Palliative Care Outpatient Clinic at Wilmot. Bayer, R.N., B.S.N., O.C.N., works as Nurse Manager of Wilmot’s Hematology/Oncology Clinic and has held a number of other oncology nursing roles. They sometimes take care of the same patient. When patients recognize the connection, it often brings comfort.
“A couple times they’d say, ‘Oh are you Colleen’s mom?’ It’s kind of neat. It breaks the ice,” Lechner says.
“In nursing, it’s kind of unique to be able to have that relationship and to be able to have that connection,” Bayer says.
Lechner started out in Pediatrics after getting her nursing degree. She worked in Obstetrics, too, before shifting to become a school nurse – while raising five daughters, including Bayer. After caring for a couple of close family members at the end of life, Lechner shifted away from school nursing and toward hospice care.
Lechner’s hospice experience directly helped Bayer as she embarked on a career in oncology nursing. After Bayer’s first patient went to hospice and later died, it helped that her mom could offer guidance.
In turn, Bayer has taken what she’s learned from her mother and used those lessons to help other new nurses struggling with end-of-life situations in oncology nursing.
“I’ve been able to have an appreciation and been able to help others throughout the years because of her experiences and being able to talk through a lot of that stuff with my mom,” Bayer says.
For Lechner, watching her daughter blossom has brought joy.
“It has been a true gift to have been able to have such a close window into Colleen, the nurse and daughter,” Lechner says. “Working closely at times with shared patients facing end of life care, this has been very special and created a unique bond between us.”
More broadly, they’ve also experienced, first-hand, the benefits of great nursing teams and compassionate care.
When Bayer’s aunt was diagnosed with cancer, she stayed on WCC7, Bayer’s unit at the time, before moving to Palliative Care (4-1200), Lechner’s former unit.
Although it was devastating that eventually Colleen’s aunt died, having their nursing teams – their Wilmot family – with them through her aunt’s illness to not only care for her as the patient, but also to care for Bayer and Lechner as family, made a difference.
After all, being there is what nursing is all about. It’s what’s helped strengthen their mother-daughter bond and it’s the reason Lechner turned to nursing from the beginning, back when she was bringing Bayer, a future nurse, into the world.
“It’s really just caregiving and being there for the patient and their family at the time in their life when they’re most distressed and needing support and healing and caregiving,” Lechner says. “We just want to help patients and their families.”