Happy Oncology Nursing Month!
Often, I get asked, "Why did you want to be an oncology nurse?," followed by, "That must be a depressing job," and ending with, "I am so sorry." Truth be told, this isn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had all the dreams in the world to work in NICU. I have yet to meet an oncology nurse that said, "I knew that’s what I wanted to be." Someone once said that you don’t choose to be an oncology nurse, it chooses you – and I couldn’t agree more. In my case, the oncology floor was the only floor that had openings at the time I applied for my first job out of nursing school. The rest, as they say, is history. I wouldn’t want to work with any other patients.
I hear from survivors, "If it wasn’t for my nurse I wouldn’t have made it." I personally believe being their nurse is the bigger reward. Oncology patients have a special place in my heart and always will. You are there when they are having good days and bad days. You hear the great news and the unimaginable news. We see patients fight for their life and yet they take the time to appreciate those that have helped them through it. My patients have taught me the value of every day, and that we are not guaranteed the next. It’s a special relationship and a treasured one. Do you have that "special" patient or patients that have inspired you to be the nurse you are today? Or even a fellow oncology nurse that helped to shape you? Let me tell you about mine:
I remember my first night off orientation like it was yesterday. As I walked into this patient’s room, it was a calming place amidst the havoc of the hospital. Here was a pleasant gentleman with leukemia fighting to stay alive. I went in to do my head to toe assessment and to administer his evening meds. I learned more from this patient than he will ever know. He never asked, "Why me?." It was always "Why not me?." We talked about life, his kids, and his beliefs. As I was leaving his room in the gentlest voice I heard, "God bless you and thank you for all you do." Here this patient, on the verge of dying, took the time to thank me. I was so humbled by him.
Several weeks later, I entered another patient’s room to find a spunky lady. She was so full of life and made me laugh like I hadn’t laughed in a long time. Her attitude was exceptional. She acted like her stay in the hospital was just a minor bump in the road. She wanted to get out as fast as she could because she had a life to live. Her metastatic cancer wasn’t going to stop her. Our paths would cross years down the road and what a blessing it was to see her and her daughter again. Not only did she teach me about living life to the fullest and not letting anything stop me, her daughter showed me how to be strong through the difficulties of life. These two ladies taught me to laugh at myself even in the bad times, and get out in the world and live every day to the fullest!
Every nurse has that mentor that impacted their career. I will never forget the night I received report from Nurse Patti. I was scared to death because I had heard so many horror stories about her. I wanted to make sure that when she reported that next morning, I had crossed all my t’s and dotted all my i’s. I wanted her to know I took better care of these patients than she could have ever imagined. I wanted to show her that I did the job to her standards. I have a special relationship with Patti to this day and I tell her all the time, "I want to be like you when I grow up." Patti taught me more than any instructor. She taught me the real world of oncology nursing. She showed me that it’s okay to be compassionate and loving to your patient. She also showed me that it’s ok to show your human side – give your patient that human touch, the hug that cost nothing, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and the tears we shed when our patients don’t get the news they deserve. Patti has inspired me to be the best nurse even when I didn’t think I had it in me.
Oncology nurses are unique and woven from a different cloth. Every day we impact patients and make a difference in their lives. We all have qualities that are not taught but learned from our experiences. We are compassionate. We are advocates for our patients. We are not afraid of the human touch, but most of all we are there to nurture each patient we encounter. The list of patients that have touched me is never-ending. They all have a special place in my heart. As we celebrate this month, try to reflect on all those patients you have touched and those that have touched you. Pull out those special cards or gifts that you received and reflect on the job you have done. If it wasn’t for them, you may not be the nurse you are today. I also have two challenges for you:
- Reach out to those nurses who have mentored you and thank them for how they helped shape you.
- Try to find a new oncology nurse that you can help shape and mentor. We, as seasoned oncology nurses, have a wealth of knowledge through our experiences that need to be shared. Even though it might just be easier or faster if we do it, it’s important to be the "Nurse Patti" to new oncology nurses.