Millie Diaz retired in 1998. So what’s she doing in that white lab coat at the Tampa Bay Oncology Center in Largo? At 77, Diaz is too busy to be retired.
“In 1980,” said Diaz, “when I was working for Suncoast Hospital, they wanted to start a support group for cancer patients. They knew I was interested, so they put me in charge of the service. I continued in that job until 1998, when I retired at 65.”
During those 18 years, Diaz developed a total of five groups meeting weekly, among them general cancer patients, breast cancer patients, caregivers and bereavement groups. In 1997, in recognition of her services, she was named Citizen of the Year by the Largo Chamber of Commerce.
Diaz started her career as a nurse’s aide at Suncoast Hospital while studying nursing at St. Pete College. After graduating with her RN degree, she continued at Suncoast in their intensive care unit until becoming product line manager for the hospital’s oncology program. In 1986, she entered and successfully completed the first specialized oncology nursing class given in the country.
“After I retired,” Diaz explained, “I continued working with cancer support groups as a volunteer with Tampa Bay Oncology and eventually, they hired me to work full-time.”
Along with monitoring and assisting patients, she has continued with one support group which meets weekly, comprised of women who include both current patients and survivors. The participants have become friends who exchange news, experiences, and jokes, as well as discussing cancer-related topics.
Asked to describe Diaz, Dr. John West, head of Tampa Bay Oncology, said, “she’s a combination of high touch and high tech – the ideal combination of skill, experience and compassion.”
In addition to her work at Tampa Bay Oncology, Diaz has been involved for many years with the American Cancer Society.
“I’m a lifetime member on the board of directors of its Pinellas
County Unit and I served for two years on the state board,” she said.
“I’m also active in fund-raising activities to support cancer awareness projects,” she went on to say. “One regular fund-raiser is a fashion show which has been held annually for 22 years. It’s held in the Largo Hospice Community Room and all the models are cancer survivors. Fashions are from Nicole’s Boutique on West Bay.”
A major project toward which Diaz’s fund-raising efforts are directed is the annual Christmas party given for children with cancer. “It’s open to all patients of the pediatric oncology clinic at All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete,” she said. “We get about 130 children every year, plus their parents and siblings, who are also invited.”
The hospital issues the invitations and collects the replies, which they pass on to Diaz and her committee. “Every guest receives a gift,” Diaz said, “but the patients can request something they especially want, and we try to get it for them.”
The party is held at the Vinoy Hotel, which contributes the use of a hall and staff free of charge. “But funds are needed,” Diaz said, “for refreshments, gifts and entertainment.” Pediatric cancer patients come from all over the state to All Children’s and they are all invited. We have games and a disk jockey and last year the Rays’ mascot attended.”
One committee member, John Blonairg, holds his own birthday every year and tells his guests – don’t bring gifts, bring presents for the children or contributions toward the party.”
Tampa Bay Oncology Center is located at 1835 Indian Rocks Road in Largo.