In 1998, I became a labor and delivery nurse and loved it. I loved
seeing the joy on new parents’ faces and holding the newborns.
But after one of my colleagues left labor and delivery to work at
MD Anderson, I decided to follow her
lead. Though I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy working with cancer patients as
much as I enjoyed working with new parents and babies, I soon took a
job at MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus.
Well, 18 years and two cross-country moves later, I am still an
oncology nurse – now at MD Anderson in The
Woodlands – and I can’t imagine working in any other field. Yet I
still hear many of the same myths and misconceptions about oncology
nurses that I had back before I came to MD Anderson.
Here are a few of them.
Myth: Your oncology nurse won’t be able to answer your questions.
Truth: We get calls from patients who believe their doctor is the
only person who can answer their questions. But we oncology nurses
actually have specialty training in cancer diagnosis, treatment,
triage, side effect and symptom management. We focus on building
trusting relationships with our patients and their families, and can
answer many of your questions quickly so you don’t have to schedule an
appointment or wait for a call back from your doctor. Your nurse is a
valuable resource who can provide reassurance and act as a lifeline to
your doctor between clinic visits.
Myth: Oncology nursing is depressing.
Truth: Actually, oncology nursing is inspiring. My cancer patients
are some of the most motivated people I’ve ever met. Many go to work
the day after chemotherapy with a scarf tied stylishly over
their hairless scalps, care for their young children or grandchildren,
participate in fundraising walks and events while on treatment and
cheer each other on to continue the fight.
The fight may be undergoing chemotherapy, going through yet another
surgery or reaching toward a milestone. Regardless of their motivation
or end goal, our patients do not give up. I can’t help but be inspired
by their determination.
Myth: Oncology nurses don’t get emotional about their patients.
Truth: We oncology nurses have a connection to each patient we meet.
We’re caring for patients who are facing life-changing events. We may
be caring for them at the time of diagnosis, or when they learn that
they’ll need chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. Or it could be when the patient learns
the cancer has progressed and that there are no more treatment options.
You might think these daily interactions could make us immune to the
emotions that often accompany these events. But we oncology nurses
grow to be more professional, calm, reassuring and honest.
However, these interactions aren’t always free of tears. The most
difficult interactions occur with patients whom we can relate to on a
very personal level. As a mother of a 9-year-old boy, I find it
emotionally challenging to work with mothers of young children, but I
consider it an honor to be a part of such a meaningful event in their lives.
As my mentor and fellow MD Anderson
nurse Teresa Bryant says of oncology nursing, “Everything else feels trivial.”
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