BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sitting on top of a shelf in Kim Sweeney's office is what she calls her "feel good box." It is filled with letters and cards from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center patients or their loved ones. Sweeney says she often looks through it when she needs a boost to her spirit and a reminder of the important work that she does.
One such card reads: "Dear Kim, thank you very much for your kindness... I know you believe it is simply part of your job but it is so much more than that. You reassure patients at the lowest point in their lives. You make them feel special and that gives them hope which often is more therapeutic than chemotherapy."
Sweeney began her career at Roswell as an intern in college. Upon graduation in June of 1999, she was hired as a graduate nurse in the ICU. Sweeney then worked on the fifth floor for bone marrow transplants, high-dose chemo, and leukemia and lymphoma care. After that, she became a leukemia research nurse coordinator, then worked in patient access, then director of case management, then pharmacy pre-authorization. Most recently, Sweeney created the medical concierge office, of which she is now the executive director.
"I help people. I want to make it as easy a journey as I can on a very difficult journey," Sweeney said.
Roswell Park President and CEO Dr. Candace Johnson calls Sweeney a "dream employee" and time and time again has watched her go above and beyond to help.
"She does whatever it takes to make sure that patient has everything that they need," Johnson said. "Cancer is such a scary thing and to have somebody there to just sort of help you take a deep breath and say 'we'll get through this, I'll be here, I'm always here.' She gives her cell phone number to every patient."
And Sweeney answers that phone day and night.
"I get calls for everything and I connect them. I hold their hand and get them where they need to go. I get them here," she said.
That's exactly what she did for Bertha Rojas from Colombia. She was hitting roadblocks while trying to come to Western New York to be with her sister and get treatment for cervical cancer at Roswell.
"We didn't have to worry pretty much about anything," Bertha Rojas said.
Bertha Rojas and her sister Jackie Rojas, a nurse from Grand Island, describe Sweeney as an angel on earth.
"My sister has received so many blessings and it's been like a miracle. Finding Kim, it made it easier. There is so much hope," said Jackie Rojas.
Bertha Rojas will begin her treatment later this month.
Sweeney truly knows the needs of a patient and caregivers, because she lived it.
Her husband, Mike Sweeney, was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2015. He was treated at Roswell and went into remission. But then in 2019 Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he passed away later that year.
"I think that what happened to my husband was part of my pathway," said Sweeney. "He was my best friend and my soulmate. I think that that helps me help others even more."
Now in the garden at Roswell where Mike found joy and peace playing music before and during his treatment, two bricks are laid in his memory. And everyday when she works with patients and families, Sweeney says she feels her husband there with her, reminding her how they want to be treated.
And yes, while Sweeney gets paid to do her job, the around-the-clock attention, care and empathy she has for the patients and their loved ones is what makes Kim Sweeney one of the Selfless Among Us.
To nominate someone to be highlighted in the "Selfless Among Us" series, email Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com .
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