If that were not enough, just about two years later, in 2007, Hoyt was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She got the call on a Friday afternoon. That Monday morning she was on the operating table.
“They kept telling me it’s the best kind of cancer to have. But it’s cancer,” Hoyt says.
The cancer was perhaps a validation of her life’s path. Her family and friends were there for her, and she again witnessed firsthand the difference skilled and motivated caregivers can make.
“I had to call one of my best friends and ask her, ‘I’m having cancer surgery. Can you watch my son overnight?’ She had to give him insulin injections. I realized what great friends and family I have,” Hoyt adds.
Recovering from cancer she had plenty of time to think, spending 11 days in isolation because the radioactive iodine treatment literally made her radioactive and a danger to others. That fear, that separation, that dependency were emotions she had seen many times in others.
“You’re at the mercy of those around you,” she explains, adding that she saw herself as a wife, mother and nursing professional, not a cancer patient, which is what others often notice first about people with that disease.
Asked how those personal experiences affected her, she muses, “I’m a much different nurse now than when I started. I’m more positive and have a much stronger faith.”
Ironically, when Hoyt was diagnosed with cancer she had left school nursing and just started as nursing coordinator for the R.N. to B.S. program at San Diego State in Calexico, which provides registered nurses a specialized path to earning a bachelor’s degree and a state public health nurse certificate, as well as exposing them to the eclectic career options in modern nursing. San Diego State offered the program in San Diego, but Hoyt was instrumental in launching it at the Imperial Valley Campus.
“We focus on having them learn hospital administration, chain of command issues, care of the critical care patient, research- and evidence-based practice and help them keep up with what’s current in nursing,” Hoyt says, explaining that because Imperial County does not have a large hospital or research facility, its healthcare professionals are at risk of not being current with changes and innovations.
Her charges, there are about 40 now in the program which has produced 19 graduates in about three years, get the full benefit of their mentor’s wide experiences. There are field trips to key lectures in San Diego and visits to locations such as the Slabs near Niland, virtually the front lines of the rural-healthcare-shortage dilemma. The students also participate in original research.
“We want them to see different career options,” Hoyt explains. “We also want them to make a difference here. We have problems locally with diabetes and obesity, and not enough nurses are writing grants to get funding to address those problems. We want to empower nurses so that when they see a problem, they can do something about it.”
Hoyt, of course, is an important role model, having earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees and having explored many aspects of the nursing profession. In 2009 she founded Imperial Valley Nursing Council, an organization that seeks to be a catalyst for nurses to improve their impact on community health, advanced nursing practices, education, adult care and leadership. She also had her master’s thesis on teen pregnancy published in the Journal of School Nursing and, she writes a blog on health for KQED, a National Public Radio station in San Francisco.
But when asked about the roots of her success, Hoyt does not waver: “My parents always supported me. I grew up in a very loving Christian home. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am.”
All those patients, children, parents and ambitious nurses whose lives Helina Hoyt has touched are grateful as well.
Helina Hoyt: A Return to her Roots