When Eileen Sino’s husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, ultimately dying from the disease about 10 years ago, the Rockville Centre resident doubted her ability to remain a cancer nurse.
“When I said to him, ‘By the way, when you’re gone, I’m not doing this anymore,’ he grabbed my arm and said, ‘Your patients need you. Stay in oncology.’”
Sino, 64, who was granted the Nurse of Excellence Award during South Nassau Communities Hospital’s Nurses Day Celebration on May 4, worked as a legal secretary and paralegal for nearly 20 years before realizing she wanted to do something more rewarding with her life.
As a teenager, she had lost her mother, who was 45, to breast cancer, and decided to help those struggling with similar diseases. “I just said there’s got to be something that has to be done for cancer patients that’s not being done,” Sino told the Herald after the ceremony.
After studying nursing, she applied to 15 hospitals, she said, receiving an offer at each one, ultimately choosing South Nassau, her hometown hospital just across the border in Oceanside. But with two small children at the time, she requested not to be put on the night shift, which was customary for new graduates. On Christmas Eve 1993, she received a call from hospital officials, who told her she was South Nassau’s newest daytime inpatient oncology nurse.
“I jumped up and down and I said, ‘I got a day job!’” Sino recalled. “Nobody gets a day job when they’re a new graduate!” Her husband hadn’t doubted her. “He said to me, ‘If anybody could do it Eileen, I knew it was you,’” she noted.
She soon became the nurse manager of an off-site out-patient infusion center, where she spent about 20 years, and later moved to the hospital’s Gertrude & Louis Feil Cancer Center in Valley Stream, serving as the breast cancer nurse navigator.
“She is the epitome of a nurse,” said Karine Austin, South Nassau’s Oncology Service Line Administrator, adding that she helps patients through diagnosis, surgeries, therapies and recovery. “She is one in a million, and she puts staff, patients, family members, even her fellow colleagues, above others.”
Austin recalled that her 14-year-old daughter had a seizure last year, noting that when she told Sino, she was by her daughter’s bedside immediately to make sure she was OK.
But the support goes in both directions between a patient and nurse, Sino said. In the tough times she experienced after losing her husband, she said, many of her patients attended his funeral, and continue to inspire her to keep supporting them on a daily basis.
“When I have those days, I say I’m going to draw strength from these patients, because they’re the real heroes,” Sino said. “They’re the brave ones. They come in and ask you how you’re doing.”
Most recently, Sino was asked to return to South Nassau’s main Oceanside campus’s outpatient infusion floor to be an oncology educator and a clinical research nurse. “I said I’ll do whatever it is you need me to do, as long as I can stay in oncology,” Sino said. “And here I’ll stay.”
Presently, a range of South Nassau’s essential oncology services, including imaging, diagnostic, support and counseling to radiation therapy and chemotherapy, are spread across different areas of the hospital, as well as at various hospital satellite facilities throughout the South Shore of Nassau County. This coordinated, yet de-centralized, network of cancer services can be an inconvenience and logistically challenging for patients and their families, hospital officials have said.
Sino said she plans to retire in six years when she’s 70, and looks forward to seeing the consolidation of South Nassau’s cancer services.
“The most rewarding part of being a nurse, especially oncology, is when people get better; and they do get better,” Sino said. “…“When you love coming to work and you love what you do, it doesn’t even feel like work. It just feels like this is where you belong.”