From a Grateful Patient

K. Ashworth: Celebrating a Decade of Survivorship, on Her Own Terms

K. Ashworth, nurse manager of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, isn’t one to sit still.

While telling the story of her stage-three breast cancer diagnosis and her subsequent decade of survivorship, Ashworth shifts in her chair and shuffles a new stack of business cards into a holder. Staff members peek their heads into her office, and she motions them toward an overflowing jar of candy, barely missing a beat.

“You’ve got to have good aim to hit a moving target,” she says. Ashworth, an RN with an MBA, works in one of the most stressful parts of the hospital—the place where victims of the most serious car accidents come after surgery, and where people who have been severely burned in fires come to recover. Not all of the patients survive, and the toll on staff can be tremendous.

“This is a hard unit to work in—you see some pretty devastating things, and our staff handles it with grace and humanity. They deserve everything they get,” she says, referring to the prestigious Silver Beacon award that the unit recently received from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

With a management philosophy based on respect and love, Ashworth has been called the glue that holds the unit together.

“As a manager, you have to know your staff, to respect and love them and know what their needs are,” she says. “I love being a bedside nurse and taking care of my patients, but some people have that natural ability to make people understand and follow them. I’m lucky enough to have that gene.”

Perhaps her desire to care for her staff, as well as an indefatigable work ethic, is why Ashworth chose to work the entire time she was undergoing treatment for cancer, missing only two half-days due to nausea. “I didn’t sign up for cancer, she says, “but if I have to have it, we’re going to do it my way.

“I was called to be a nurse. I’m not even sure I ever had a choice,” Ashworth recalls. “People give you their lives when they are the most vulnerable, and so afraid and frightened, and that’s sacred. Not everyone gets that opportunity. We’re privileged.”

This summer, Ashworth will ride in Pelotonia, the annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State, to give back to the university’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), where she received top-notch treatment, and to celebrate the recent conclusion of her decade-long chemotherapy treatment.

“Even if we can’t find a cure—because cancer is so devious and is able to mutate and change—it’s important that we raise enough money to give people a really great quality of life,” she says. “My quality of life for 10 years has been fabulous.

“We were put on this Earth to take care of one another,” she adds, motioning for a staff member to step into her office to the candy jar. “People deserve that.”

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