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Selfless approach earns nurse award

| Thursday, June 22, 2006

After being hospitalized with serious side affects from chemotherapy, breast cancer survivor Camille Sciullo, of Shaler, was ready to give up on the treatment.

Then she met Peggy Nikolajski, of Shaler, an oncology nurse practitioner at UPMC Cancer Center at St. Margaret's in Aspinwall.

"I was very frightened and upset, and then Peggy walked into my (hospital) room," Sciullo said. "She was very compassionate and supportive. She sat down and talked logic with me, encouraging me to continue with the chemo."

Nikolajski's selfless approach has earned her the American Cancer Society's Lane Adams Quality of Life Award. Chosen as one of 10 outstanding cancer care providers in the United States, Nikolajski, received the prestigious national prize for cancer caring at an awards ceremony last month in Atlanta.

"Peggy is extremely deserving of the award," Sciullo said. "She's very focused on patient advocacy and is extraordinary in going above and beyond the call of duty."

At last year's Relay for Life, an annual event to raise money for cancer research, Nikolajski was "very hands-on and active, helping out with the event," Sciullo, 45, said. "She had a luminary placed at the field in my honor. That said volumes to me. It was very touching for her to take the time to think of me and my struggle. I was very grateful, moved and appreciative of that."

Even though she's a dedicated caregiver and volunteer for the American Cancer Society, Nikolajski, 52, was still "very surprised" that she received the award.

"This is a highlight of my career," she said. "It was a great educational experience to meet other recipients of the award, share information and get feedback."

With 32 years of nursing experience, Nikolajski's work on behalf of cancer patients includes developing policies and procedures for oncology nurses, administering a foundation fund that helps patients pay their bills and developing a community oncology program at St. Margaret's that includes tumor registry work, research initiatives and educational programs for hospital staff.

Nikolajski also received the Volunteer of the Year for the American Cancer Society's Greater Pittsburgh Unit in 2003 and the UPMC 2005 Cameo of Caring Award.

"Peggy's an inspiration," said Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, a cancer control specialist for the American Cancer Society's Western Pennsylvania region. "We've worked together on numerous projects and she's always willing to give freely of her time. She always puts the patient's interest first and is the type of person who gets people in the community motivated to help out," Pagel-Hogan, of Brighton Heights, said.

Nikolajski said she simply tries to make life easier for people diagnosed with cancer.

"Cancer is a tough thing for people to go through," she said. "It's not just about trying to beat cancer; it's about trying to live with cancer."

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