What does Wonder Woman do when she loses her sidekick? She starts a grief support group.

Amanda Rardon, RN, is the clinical operations manager of trauma and emergency services at IU Health Arnett Hospital. She has been a trauma nurse for twenty plus years. She is the mother of three children. In her free time, Rardon teaches behavioral health classes at the Purdue School of Nursing and she volunteers at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic. And now she runs a grief support group.

Rardon lost her sister Ashley, five years ago on Christmas Day. They had just finished opening presents. Ashley was 32 years old and died of cardiac arrest. Rardon went into full nursing mode but despite all of her training, Rardon could not save her sister. Something she has dealt with ever since.

“Each year, I can feel the grief coming,” explained Rardon. “One minute I am fine, the next I am crying in Kroger. You feel like you are losing your mind.”

Rardon is from a small town where there are not a lot of resources. “Some days, dealing with your grief can make the 45-minute drive to Lafayette too much to handle.”

Her father, Bob Houser, is a licensed minster and serves as the chaplain for the Monticello Police Department. John Roscka from the local funeral home often reaches out to Houser when people do not have a clergy member to perform funeral services. He never says no.

In January, Houser lost his brother to COVID. The diagnosis came around Thanksgiving, the time of the year the grief starts. Rardon put her nurse cap on and tried to prepare her family for the worse as too many things were stacked against his recovery. The day of his passing Rardon volunteered to give out COVID vaccines. Houser officiated his brother’s service.

“Every loss is devastating, whether you know it is coming or not,” stated Rardon. “You have to meet people where they are.”

And so began the grief support group, Healing with Hope in Monticello. The first gathering was held on Tuesday, March 16. The father and daughter duo only expected 5 or 6 people. Twenty-four people showed up. “It certainly spoke to the need, “observed Rardon.

The group started with introductions; by the fourth person there was a collective sigh as attendees realized they were not alone. “It does not matter if you have lost a sibling, a spouse, a mentor – any loss is devastating,” explained Rardon. “Everyone grieves differently. Knowing you are not alone is important.” After group, people were gathering in the parking lot, giving hugs and exchanging information. A community was born.

“Our desire was to create a space for people to share their grief whether it was last week or ten years ago. The grief cycle never ends,” shared Rardon. “Grieve your loss. Don’t compare your loss to everyone else – it is your loss.”

There is no set agenda. The topic of each session just grows organically. The group meets on the first and third Tuesday every month. The community is supporting Healing with Hope. The Miller-Roscka Funeral Home donated supplies for the journals. LifeSong Church lets the group use their space which started in a classroom and has since moved to the sanctuary.

The next dream is to open a grief support group for high school age children. “I knew my children needed me while they were grieving their Aunt. I could not help them because I couldn’t help myself. My kids kept me going while I dealt with intense guilt of not being able to save my sister. Ashley died from an unknown congenital defect, there was nothing anyone could have done. But I felt I had let my family down.”

One way Rardon has dealt with her grief is not only teaching a behavioral health class to nursing students at Purdue but counseling new team members in the emergency department. She calls it grief from both sides of the bed. She shares her story not for sympathy but to simply say, life happens. “You will see miracles happen, but you will also see very hard things.”

Rardon encourages all team members to use the resources available to them. Reach out for support from EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and from RISE (Resilience in Stressful Events) which is a peer-to-peer program. “It is important to deal with these things as they happen and not let them fester and to know you are not alone.”

Wonder Woman? Rardon has a collection of Wonder Woman items in her office and at home. Her sister was more of a fan of Superman. Rardon now has an angel over her Wonder Woman tattoo holding a Superman.

A favorite quote of Rardon’s “You don’t get pick the hand you are dealt but you can play the hell out of the one you have.”

Tonsil Cancer Removed by Robotic Procedure

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She thought she had her tonsils removed years ago, but when she was nagged by a pesky sore throat Kimberly Cochran followed up with her doctor. First she was prescribed an antibiotic. That was August of 2020.

“It felt better but it didn’t go away,” said Cochran, 60, of Frankfurt. By October she was seeking the advice of an Ears, Nose and Throat specialist. To her surprise, a sore was discovered on her tonsils and she was referred to an oncologist. The initial treatment recommendation included radiation and chemotherapy.

“I weigh 80 some pounds and I didn’t think my body could survive chemotherapy,” said Cochran. That’s when she turned to IU Health in search of other options. She was connected with Dr. Michael Moore who specializes in Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month – a time to bring attention to screenings and education. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates more than 54,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year. Of that number, 43 percent aren’t expected to survive longer than five years. The primary reason: Those cancers are discovered late in their development.

For Cochran, early intervention resulted in robotic surgery Jan. 15, 2021 to remove affected lymph nodes.

“The use of TransOral Robotic Surgery was approved by the FDA in 2009 and we started doing it here at IU Health not long after that,” said Dr. Moore. “It is used to remove certain tumors from the back of the throat in a way that is much less invasive than traditional open approaches and it also may allow for patients to receive lower dose radiation or possibly even avoid it altogether. The focus is to reduce long-term side effects such as dry mouth and throat, taste disturbance and difficulty swallowing,” he said.

In Cochran’s case, the surgery was a good option because she wanted to avoid radiation and chemotherapy. “While the initial healing period is uncomfortable and swallowing is difficult right after surgery, these symptoms tend to improve and long-term effects are excellent,” said Dr. Moore.

A former smoker, Cochran called 1-800-Quit-Now when she first learned of the cancer. She received free coaching, educational materials, resources, and patches to help her stop smoking. Smoking and heavy drinking – especially by those older than 50, are among the risk factors of developing oral cancer.

The Oral Cancer Foundation joins a number of dental health organizations in the “Check Your Mouth” initiative. Signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Sores or ulcers that may last more than 14 days
  • Red or black discoloration of the mouth
  • Any abnormalities that bleed
  • Lumps or hard spots on the tongue
  • Sores under the dentures
  • Lumps in the neck that last at least two weeks

“I would tell people, even if you have sore throats from sinuses or allergies, keep an eye on things,” said Cochran, the mother of two and grandmother to two. “I didn’t think it was cancer but you can’t ignore things. You have to advocate for yourself and go to a doctor.”