I was barely there for two days, but I had the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing nurses. On the flight home, I had a chance to reflect on my trip--and to think back about some of the excellent nursing care that I have received since I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma over five years ago.
A pair of local, small-town Wisconsin nurses, Dody and Cathleen, put up with me for two years while my doctors worked to stabilize my cancer--and I tried to wrap my head around my difficult diagnosis.
I spent a lot of time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, early on. Teresa, Joan and Monica were three of the most helpful, caring and professional health care professionals that I have ever met. How fortunate I was to have their help throughout a complicated 15-day stem-cell harvest from hell. Ladies and gentlemen, I couldn't have made it without you!
And then there were the half-dozen or more BMT (bone marrow transplant) nurses who helped me through my stem-cell transplant last summer at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. All things considered, the procedure went off without a hitch, courtesy of the bright and compassionate nursing staff. And trust me, I wasn't the easiest patient to work with.
I endured waves of nausea around the clock. My nurses worked hard to help me rest comfortably throughout. Heck, late one night my nurse even called a physician at home to get me the medication I needed to stop hiccupping!
More recently, the infusion nurses at Florida Cancer Research have helped make my ongoing therapy a lot easier to endure.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that the oncology nursing skill I value most is the ability to start an IV effortlessly, even in the most difficult-to-stick patients.
I have learned a lot about what makes a good oncology nurse from a patient's perspective over the years. And I'm convinced that while any type of nursing is difficult, oncology nurses handle some extreme challenges nearly every day.
- For example, an oncology nurse needs to deal with the emotional challenge of sometimes losing patients who have become close friends. And that isn't getting any easier now that cancer patients are living longer. Sure, that means there may be a few more victories early on. But it also means more time to become close and emotionally attached to a patient, which can make it much more difficult if they do pass away.
- Then there are the technical requirements of their craft. I have no idea how these skilled men and women keep chemotherapy dosing straight. It can't be easy working with so much toxic, dangerous medications day in and day out.
- Most importantly, an oncology nurse needs to be a good listener. Getting to know and listening to their patients not only allows them to help keep a patient thinking positively, it also allows these nurses to make suggestions to the oncologist about things that they have noticed will help their patients get through each day.
- Patient quality-of -life issues are also a primary part of an oncology nurse's job. By closely monitoring a patient's ability to deal with their medication, a well-timed nurse's suggestion to an oncologist can make a huge difference in a patient's quality of life while they undergo treatment.
All that's left to say to oncology nurses is thank you. Thank you for distracting me just before the needle goes in. Thank you for helping to keep me warm when the IV is cold. And most of all, thank you for being my friend.
Feel good and keep smiling!