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April 13, 2021

A brave and giving heart

Lilac-hued walls inside the seventh-floor break room stand out from the otherwise uniform hospital hallways at Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, where Fran Braverman’s No. 38 locker is still stuffed with handwritten notes, medical supplies and a stethoscope with her name on it. The shiny plaque hanging nearby reads, “In memory of Fran Braverman, a caring nurse, our colleague, our friend.”

The gesture of memorandum is apropos for the “compassionate” RN, who won’t be attending to the needs of her patients this Christmas season. Fran succumbed to colon cancer in October.

After finding her “calling” when she decided to study nursing at the age of 50, Fran commuted 46 miles roundtrip from her Gilroy home during the work week to San Jose, where she tended to patients for the next years, or, “up until the very end of her life,” co-worker Sheeba Gipson noted.

“No whines, no complaints,” continued Gipson. “She was so sick, but never said, ‘I cannot take this,’ or, ‘I cannot do this.’ ”

When Fran, then 60, was diagnosed in December 2007 with colon cancer, her husband Marty Braverman said helping others became his wife’s “real” therapy amid multiple surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy – a “debilitating” regime he likened to “having poison pumped into your body.”

“It was like death would be better than this treatment,” said Marty, 64, of his late wife’s ultimate decision to forego a fourth round of chemotherapy. “It just seemed like that would be the tipping point.”

Fran folded up her scrubs for good four years after her initial diagnosis.

She worked her last day on July 13, entered hospice care July 14 and passed away on a sunny Sunday morning, Oct. 2 in her Gilroy home.

“The one thing that really kind of keeps you going is that spark of hope, and once you call hospice, the hope – that little spark – goes out,” said Marty, who will spend his first Christmas after 39 years of marriage, plus one year of living together prior to that, without his spouse.

Fran’s lasting impression on her colleagues hasn’t paled, either.

After her death, co-workers petitioned the hospital to allow them to dedicate the break room in her honor. Over the course of two weeks, a group of 40 nurses who worked on Fran’s floor (called the stepdown unit, denoting post-intensive care) transformed a 300-square-foot space into a “healing place” conducive to reflection, rest and relaxation.

Upon completion of the lounge’s cozy makeover, a dedication ceremony in remembrance of Fran was held Nov. 6 with stepdown staff in attendance.

Standing in the lounge Tuesday afternoon, Sharon Manning – an RN who worked with Fran – gestured to the walls. They were intentionally painted in a soothing wash of mellow purple, the universal color for cancer awareness.

“She was a very caring, compassionate nurse who was spiritually in tune with her patients,” said Manning of her late co-worker, who religiously packed a fun-size candy bar in her lunch for dessert every day. “And that reflected on all of us.”

Despite Fran’s illness, her supervisor Debra Denham, Ph.D., RN, said she never overheard so much as an “I don’t feel good” – even though Marty said his wife was frequently nauseous and fatigued from the chemotherapy.

“It really ages you,” he said, of the treatments. “She was barely 60, very fit and active, and looking younger than her age. By the time this was over four years later, she could have passed for her late 70s.”

With emotional stresses taking their toll, Fran kept the battle at bay from her vocation as she continued to funnel her waning energy into caring for others. This persistent commitment got noticed by her patients, whom Denham said frequently praised Fran for “going above and beyond.”

Crowding into the staff break room Tuesday, RN Marcy Kohler teared up as she recalled how, just the other day, an Intensive Care Unit nurse mentioned in passing that he missed Fran.

It echoes a comment made by Denham, who coined her much-missed staff member as “a very unifying person for the unit.”

Nurses say Fran – characterized by RN Tess Atwal as “pleasant” and having an infectious laugh – made friends with employees on every floor of the hospital.

Homage to their colleague lives on in a small but meaningful way in the seventh-floor break room, where framed snapshots of Fran and her co-workers hang on the walls.

With a handful of decorative accents including a trickling fountain, potted plants, throw pillows, couches and mood lighting, the stepdown’s staff lounge “is the envy of the hospital,” joked Denham.

Near Fran’s plaque, a quote on the wall reads, “Remember to cherish each moment, for this is what memories are made of.”

Which is exactly what Fran and Marty did in their last years together.

The couple took a cruise down the Mexican Riviera, visited Puerto Vallarta and visited all of the Washington D.C. monuments and the Statue of Liberty during a multi-city trip to the East Coast.

Fran was born March 10, 1948 in South Bend, Ind. She later moved to Santa Cruz, where she met Marty at a disco called the Interlude in 1971.

It didn’t take long before Fran gave Marty today’s equivalent of “put a ring on it.”

“Exactly one year after we met, she said, ‘Make me an honest woman, or don’t let the door hit you in the backside on the way out,'” he laughed. “It was the best offer I ever made.”

As of Sept. 23, 2012, the two would have been married for 40 years. Marty said Fran had blue eyes.

When the Braverman’s two children, now 27 and 32, were in high school and college, Fran, then 50, enrolled in the nursing program at Gavilan College per Marty’s suggestion – “which she initially pooh-poohed,” he recalled.

Prior to this, Fran served as an amateur nurse to her family’s pets and enjoyed her job as an administrative assistant to a local doctor.

“That’s where she got the bug for nursing,” Marty recalled.

He saw the medical field as a natural fit – “and it turned out to be her calling,” he said.

Nourishing others translated from hospital to kitchen, where Fran was famous for her pecan pies and “lighter than air waffles.”

Marty described her as an old-fashioned person who liked to putt around the kitchen and make sure there was a constant cache of good stuff to munch on.

In her last three months, Fran read a number of novels and got hooked on the hit Fox TV show “Glee.”

She died at home Oct. 2 in the immediate company of her husband, two half-sisters and sister-in-law.

Marty remembers his wife as a sincere, sweet woman who shirked polite formality for earnest interaction with everyone she met.

“You could tell when she dealt with people there was a genuine interest and concern about the other person,” he said.

Despite being tiny and frail from having not eating a real meal in three months, Marty remembers “she was beautiful at the end, in spite of it all.”

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