Sister Dorothy Brogan (80 y/o) // nurse & practitioner of love @ Bon Secours St. Francis Health System // Irishwoman // avid reader // fan of walks, swims, classical music & art // survivor of sister Maureen (passed in ’82 from lung cancer); currently surviving with the many people she serves
“I was born in Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland. Bon Secours brought me to Greenville through a very long road! I have worked as a nurse for 60 years, most of the time with oncology; but we didn’t call it that way back in my day. In the Depression, my parents lost everything they had in the U.S. My father’s parents had a farm in Ireland, so they went back there from Philadelphia; but the 3 of us ended up coming back here when I was 17, because Ireland was in a depression itself in those days – there was nothing there. So we were immigrants!
“I met the Sisters of Bon Secours when I finished my schooling, & I don’t know – I just found them attractive. I just wanted to be a nurse, & that was their calling. In the beginning of our congregation, most of us were Sisters, & that changed along the way; but the particular calling of our congregation was to care for the sick & dying in their homes. Women didn’t have many opportunities in those days, so you became a housewife, a secretary, a nun or a teacher – so it’s all related to what was going on in society at the time. It’s about evolution! I worked with hospice; then I came here, & I did chaplaincy with hospice & home health patients. Presently I am working as a chaplain at the St. Francis Cancer Center.
“Day-to-day I visit the patients that come on their first visit for chemo. Mostly I just listen. I really, really listen. I try to hear where their pain is, & most often, I receive so much more than I ever give – it’s a give & receive. My faith & my life are enriched because of the experiences I’ve shared with people on a journey of suffering. That’s a mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours: to be good help to those in need.
“Suffering is a mystery, & it’s only revealed in the depths of a relationship with someone. I think through the relationships I’ve developed working with cancer patients, I’ve seen that when we are vulnerable & needing, we are so much more open to love. I journey with [patients] just as a person; I share their history, & share their pain in that moment, but also with their families. You see the pain, the love & the commitment of spouses – couples that have been married for years. You just walk with them. Just listen; be there with them; just walk along. Be there on the days were there is desperation & depression & hopelessness. It’s just about being present. It doesn’t matter what they believe in – I think it’s the love dimension. I find that faithful presence is being faithful to show up, to be there, to be sensitive to others. I often meet with people, & we don’t say a word. If they reach out to me, I hold the hand. I see the tears come down, & I hold the hand. I don’t say anything, because what is there to say?
“Prayer is powerful, because I believe that being present is prayer, in a certain way. When a person is sharing their struggle, or their rollercoaster journey with cancer, that’s their prayer: struggling to live with this, struggling to believe there is a God who loves with them in the midst of this apparently hopeless & desperate situation. Especially the caregivers, the significant others – they often suffer more than the person being treated, because of the feeling of hopelessness. That was Jesus’s prayer when he was suffering – ‘My God, my God, have You abandoned me?’ – so my experience is THAT is prayer.
“We all deal with things differently. We react differently. As far as suffering, I would encourage a person to go deep inside the self & discover where he or she might find meaning. I would try to get the person to explore his or her own inner journey. I don’t give advice…I think we have to find our own meaning. I think we have to explore the things that happen to us by exploring what’s important to us. It’s a big struggle! It doesn’t just happen – it’s a huge journey.”