Mary Margaret Friend, a registered nurse at Holy Rosary Healthcare, has served the people of Eastern Montana for more than 37 years. Her dedication and compassion for her patients coupled with her spirituality and unwavering faith has even inspired some to refer to her as, “Sister Mary Margaret.”
When she joined the Holy Rosary Healthcare family, she had no idea the relationship would last nearly four decades. In that time, Friend has filled several different roles, but she found her true calling in cancer care where she served as the Outpatient Chemotherapy Manager.
“Cancer patients, as a whole, are the most incredible people you’ll ever meet,” said Friend. “We’re a small town. So, you know them before the cancer diagnosis and you know them after the cancer diagnosis. If they don’t survive, you’re friends with the family. You’re a friend for life, really.”
And the feelings from her patients and their families are mutual.
“Mary Margaret is truly one of God’s Angels on earth. The lives she has touched is simply amazing,” said Tory Fields, the daughter of Friend’s former patients. “Bringing people joy in their darkest time in life is a rare gift.”
Last month, she decided it was time to close this chapter and start a new one in retirement.
“I’m going to miss the people the most,” Friend said. “I’ve gained so much from being able to be part of their lives and their treatment. I really will desperately miss that. But I’ll still see them around town and won’t be a stranger to them.”
Dr. Patrick Cobb, an oncologist at St. Vincent Healthcare Frontier Cancer Center and Oncology Medical Director of St. Vincent and Holy Rosary, travels to Holy Rosary each month to meet with patients and also conducts appointments with patients via telemedicine from Billings. He has worked with Friend for more than two decades and credits a large portion of the success of Holy Rosary’s cancer program to her.
“When I started coming to Holy Rosary about 23 years ago to provide cancer services, I was told to go find Mary Margaret because she would know exactly what I needed to do. And, guess what? She did,” Dr. Cobb remarked. “Mary Margaret was the foundation of the program at Holy Rosary. She has been the reason patients choose Holy Rosary for their cancer care.”
Holy Rosary has decided to “keep it in the family” in terms of her successor. Friend’s legacy and life’s work will be carried on through her daughter, Katie Donnelly, who took over as Outpatient Chemotherapy Manager at Holy Rosary.
“She’s the reason I went into oncology. I’ve been able to witness what she’s done over the years and see the impact she’s made,” said Donnelly. “My mother is the most compassionate nurse I’ve ever met and that’s not just because she’s my mom. She’s truly my mentor.”
Dr. Cobb couldn’t be more supportive of Donnelly taking over.
“Talk about the ultimate planning! About 20 years before we even started cancer care at Holy Rosary, Mary Margaret had the insight to create her replacement for when she retired,” Dr. Cobb said with a laugh. “We are so fortunate to have her daughter, Katie, replacing Mary Margaret as the manager.”
Donnelly grew up in Miles City but started work at St. Vincent’s in Billings when she graduated nursing school. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. She also has two specialty certifications which require extensive training and experience to obtain and maintain: Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) and Certified Registered Nurse Infusion (CRNI).
Donnelly never thought about returning to Miles City until Friend announced her retirement last year and asked her daughter to consider taking over.
“She definitely left me some big shoes to fill, but we have a shared level of compassion for cancer care,” Donnelly stated. “I’m eager for this opportunity and to make a difference in the care our patients receive at Holy Rosary.”
The passing of the baton couldn’t have come at more appropriate time as Holy Rosary Healthcare undergoes physical change as well. Renovation on their infusion center will begin February 5. The $1.1 million project will offer cutting-edge treatment spaces, luxurious new chairs, and more space for patients and families.
This project would not have been possible without the financial support and benefit of being part of a health system, along with the incredible generosity of a local donor.
“We are part of something bigger and this is one way Holy Rosary Healthcare and eastern Montana is benefiting from that,” said Paul Lewis, Holy Rosary Healthcare President. “We’re also very fortunate to be part of a very generous and philanthropic community. We are incredibly grateful for the large gift from Bill and Sharon Oftedal.”
The Oftedals, longtime Holy Rosary supporters, donated $110,000 to advance cancer care at Holy Rosary Healthcare. Their generosity will impact patients and caregivers – like Donnelly – for years to come.
When asked how she copes with the stress and pain of working in oncology, Donnelly replied, “It’s the patients. Cancer patients are a special part of the population. They keep everyone coming in every day.”
Mother and daughter agree on that whole-heartedly.