May 13, 2022

A legacy of nursing

Portrait of Bonnie McCausland.
Bonnie McCausland

Nursing was a central part of Bonnie McCausland’s identity.

After her graduation from Iowa Methodist School of Nursing in 1967, Bonnie spent nearly 40 years providing loving, compassionate care to patients of all ages in a variety of different health care settings.

Her warm, outgoing personality made her a memorable fixture in the office of Dr. Ken Devries in Waunakee for 15 years before she retired.

“She loved her work,” said her husband, Dan McCausland.

When Bonnie passed away from pancreatic cancer in October 2021, Dan wanted to find a way not only to honor her memory but show gratitude to the UW Carbone Cancer Center team who treated her — especially the nurses who shared Bonnie’s dedication to the profession. That’s why he created a scholarship fund in her memory.

“Nursing is truly a higher calling,” Dan said.

A lifetime of nursing

Dan and Bonnie McCausland married in 1969 in Germany, where Dan was stationed after enlisting in the Army. However, Dan was sent to Vietnam within months of their wedding, so Bonnie moved back to the Des Moines area to be with her family.

“It was very traumatic for both of us,” he said of that year-long separation.

Once Dan returned from Vietnam, he got his job back with Oscar Mayer and the couple moved to Beardstown, Ill. They moved a few times as Dan advanced within the company, including two years living in McFarland in the late 1970s, before they finally settled in Waunakee in 1987.

Throughout those moves, Bonnie would find new nursing jobs and continued working while raising their two sons.

Longtime Waunakee residents would remember Bonnie from her work in the family medicine clinic of Dr. Ken Devries. She spent 15 years there before she retired.

“She really liked getting to know the patients,” Dan said.

Bonnie was always devoted to her family and enjoyed spending as much time as possible with her six grandchildren, especially once she retired.

“She was a great wife and mother, but she was a world-class grandma,” Dan recalled.

Cancer treatment

In April 2020, Bonnie was taking blood thinner medication and noticed she had a very irregular result from testing she did to monitor the medication’s effects. Dan took her to the emergency room, but due to COVID restrictions he could not go inside with her.

Bonnie stayed overnight for testing and evaluation, and the following day they discovered Bonnie had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Dan regretted that he could not be at the hospital with her for the devastating news.

“She was all by herself when she found out,” he said.

Bonnie was referred to UW Carbone and started an aggressive treatment plan that involved three regimens of chemotherapy; 33 infusions in all. Dan said she tolerated those very well, and her nursing background helped with managing her home care. She also maintained her positive outlook.

“She never complained,” he said. “It would be easy to have a ‘why me?’ attitude, but that was not her way.”

The couple also enjoyed chatting with staff at UW Carbone during Bonnie’s appointments. Nurse practitioner Jenna Wilke said Bonnie loved talking about her family and always caught up on what was new with the doctors, nurses and other staff. She would also share some stories from her nursing career.

“Every interaction that I had with Bonnie, it was apparent how much love she had for her family, friends, and those around her,” Wilke said.

Bonnie’s chemotherapy ended in early October after it was determined the treatments were no longer benefitting her. She passed away on October 28.

Dan said he was overwhelmed by the amount of people who attended Bonnie’s wake and reached out to him with condolences and stories about their connections to Bonnie while she was at the Waunakee clinic

“She touched a lot of people,” Dan said.

Honoring her legacy

Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates compared to other major cancer types. The main reason is it’s often not diagnosed until the later stages, when the cancer has spread and is much more difficult to treat.

Dan said he felt fortunate that Bonnie lived 18 months after her diagnosis and credited that to her expert care at UW Carbone.

“They prolonged her life and gave us more time,” Dan said.

They especially connected to the nurses who were always friendly and warm during Bonnie’s chemotherapy appointments and were a reassuring and kind resource during after-hours calls.

That’s why Dan established a scholarship fund to help provide more educational opportunities for oncology nurses. In this first year, there will be five $1,000 scholarships to help pay for conferences, classes or any other training programs. Dan hopes the scholarships will be of use to Carbone staff nurses to advance their nursing skills.

“If we can do something with a little bit of money that will let other nurses pursue their calling with additional education, that’s what I want to do,” Dan said.

Wilke agreed that the memorial scholarship is a perfect way to honor Bonnie and show appreciation and support of oncology nurses. Wilke said kind, compassionate patients like Bonnie are why she loves her job.

“I am constantly reminded to slow down and appreciate all that life has to offer,” she said. “By interacting with patient's during the most difficult times of their lives, I am able to gain a unique perspective into my own life.

“Oncology nursing allows me to form unique bonds with patients and families. Bonnie and Dan are an example of this bond, and I am truly blessed to have cared for Bonnie.”