3 things I’ve learned as an MD Anderson nurse

I used to joke that I came to MD Anderson by mistake, because when I graduated from nursing school, I missed all the deadlines at the other major Houston hospitals to apply for positions. But five years later, my older brother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. And suddenly, I knew it wasn’t an accident.

I never would have been able to take care of my brother and advocate for him the way I did before he died if I hadn’t worked at MD Anderson first. So I know now this is where I was meant to be.

Here are three other things I’ve learned.

Don’t apologize for asking questions

As a nurse in the Gynecologic Oncology Center, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard patients say, “I’m sorry for asking you so many questions.” But answering questions is a part of my job, and I’m always happy to do it — whether you’re standing in front of me at the clinic or calling me from your home. Serving patients is the reason I’m here.

Anything I can do to reduce your anxiety, I want to do it. So, don’t apologize for seeking information. If you’re feeling confused, need clarification or just want some encouragement, please ask. That’s what I’m here for. And I’m happy to help.

My questions serve a purpose, too

One of the things that really bothered my late brother when he was being treated for kidney cancer was how many times he had to answer the same questions from different members of his care team. Some of those questions felt pretty invasive, so it was frustrating when he didn’t see anything come of his answers.

As a nurse, I have to ask my patients a lot of sensitive questions, too, particularly because I work in gynecology. But I try to explain why I’m asking, so patients can understand the reasoning behind my actions. I’m not asking you just because I’m curious. I need to know the answer so I can do something about it. For instance, irradiating the pelvis can reduce natural vaginal lubrication, which may lead to painful intercourse. I can suggest several things to help, but I won’t know if that’s an issue for you unless I ask.

Your family history matters

I cannot overemphasize how important it is to learn your family’s cancer history. If a disease runs in your family and has an inheritable genetic component, it can have implications for both your siblings and your children.

So, if I can prevent just one more cancer death by getting a high-risk individual started on a preventive screening schedule, then it’s worth repeating: learn your family history.

Because the easiest cancer to treat is the one you never get.

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