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Catherine Lee English Brenneke


'Born to be a nurse,' Catherine Brenneke dies of cancer at 51

LUTZ — As recently as May, Catherine Brenneke's life seemed idyllic. She had a joyous nine-year marriage and she was fulfilled by her nursing career.

The two homes she shared with her husband, one in Lutz and one in the mountains of Georgia, were like museums, packed with the antiques they cherished. She loved jogging and practicing yoga.

"She was the picture of health," said her husband, Rob Brenneke, "until three months ago."

They were vacationing at their Georgia home when Ms. Brenneke started feeling nauseated. They came back to Tampa, and she went to the emergency room at University Community Hospital, where she worked.

She was diagnosed with a rare and particularly aggressive form of cancer that had started in her appendix and spread. She was already in stage four.

On Aug. 25, three months to the day after she was diagnosed, Ms. Brenneke died. She was just 51 years old.

"I had hope," her husband said. "I knew she didn't have long. But I didn't expect this. I didn't expect three months."

Ms. Benneke lived virtually her entire life in the Tampa area. She was born at MacDill Air Force Base, and her mother was a local beauty queen. When Elvis Presley came to Tampa in 1956, he took Ms. Brenneke's mother (who was not yet married) out to dinner.

After her parents divorced, Ms. Brenneke and her mother lived all over town, from South Tampa to Carrollwood.

She spent her entire working life as a nurse, and the last 18 years at University Community Hospital.

"I think all nurses are caregivers," her husband said, "and she certainly was. She loved it and she took it very seriously."

Even her fellow nurses recognized that Ms. Brenneke was something special.

"She was born to be a nurse," said her friend Carla Loher, who worked with Ms. Brenneke for the past six years. "She treated patients, treated everybody, the way she would want to be treated herself. She was always learning, always trying to find solutions."

She was divorced when mutual friends urged her and Bob Brenneke to meet.

They married nine years ago. She was an avid collector of antiques. He liked to play golf and ride Harleys.

They immediately started sharing each other's passions. Bob Brenneke became what he calls an "antique-aholic," and Catherine Brenneke started riding Harleys and hitting the golf course.

"She devoted herself to loving the things I loved," Bob Brenneke said.

After she was diagnosed, Ms. Brenneke tried to live her remaining life as normally as she could. She went to yoga class, and just a couple of weeks ago she went to Georgia for one last visit to her home there.

She spent her last days in the hospital where she had worked for nearly two decades. Her husband was at her side, and so were the nurses she knew. Almost every night, four or five of them would spend the night with her.

"They'd work their shift, come up to be with her, then go home, shower and come back to work," her husband said. "Everyone just loved her."

Besides her husband, Ms. Brenneke is survive by her daughter, Tara Wood, a grandson, Kelley Wood, stepsons Adam and Scott Brenneke, brothers Christopher English, Edward English and Michael Nikolau, and sisters Carolyn English and Elizabeth English.

'Born to be a nurse,' Catherine Brenneke dies of cancer at 51 09/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 4:49pm]
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