Lakisha Henderson

Photo: Audra Melton

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Sky's the Limit: Lakisha Henderson

The cancer patient—call her Jane—weakly squeezed Lakisha Henderson's hand. For a grueling month, Henderson had been Jane's nurse at Cancer Treatment Centers of America's (CTCA) Newnan, Georgia, facility, and her care team was discussing next steps. Jane desperately needed a crucial stem cell procedure and would have to fly to CTCA's Philadelphia hospital to get it. "The only way I'm going," she said, "is if Lakisha goes, too."

Henderson is famous around the hospital for going above and beyond. She's visited families at home to console them after the death of a loved one; she sings gospel songs to comfort patients ("Be Ye Also Ready" is a popular request).

However, she'd never gone so literally above, so far beyond as to board an airplane for a patient. As all her coworkers well knew, she was utterly, morbidly afraid of flying.

So what did she say to Jane's proposal? "Let's go."

For days before her trip, Henderson could barely eat or sleep. But every time she wavered, she thought of Jane. "People don't come into the hospital to die, they come in to fight," Henderson says. "And we get right on board and fight with them."

On the dreaded day, Henderson took many deep breaths and an Ativan, then spent the entire flight praying. As soon as she landed, she hurried on wobbly legs to meet Jane at the hospital, where she served as her rock for two days.

Three years later, Jane's cancer is under control. She and Henderson still exchange news about their kids or another clear scan. "Sometimes patients need you to be a sister, a friend, or a mother," Henderson says. "As nurses, we reinvent ourselves every day."

—Kate Rockwood