Nurse finds fulfillment in transition to oncology nursing
Meghan Williams can now dispel many of the myths and misconceptions she once believed about oncology nursing.
Before joining MD Anderson in December 2020 as a night-shift hematology nurse, Williams admits she was intimidated to learn about all the new cancer therapies. She also had concerns that caring for cancer patients would be depressing. But after nearly a year on the job, she can confidently say that’s not the case.
“Our patients inspire me every day, and I’m part of a team who truly believes in the work that we are doing and our mission to end cancer — and that’s refreshing,” she says.
Making the leap to become an oncology nurse
Williams first became interested in the nursing profession when she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 14 and spent a week in the hospital. Her experience with the nursing staff left a lasting impression.
“The nurses spent a lot of time with me and made something completely new and very scary into something that was very manageable,” Williams says.
Following nursing school, Williams worked on a medical-surgical unit in Webster, Texas, for four years. While she loved taking care of patients with a variety of medical issues who were recovering from surgery, she began feeling unfulfilled, as she would take care of patients for a day or two and never see them again. Williams often wondered how they were doing after they left the hospital. Ready for a change, she followed the lead of a few of her former colleagues who now work at MD Anderson and encouraged her to make the leap.
On her first day of orientation at MD Anderson, she knew it was the right decision.
“One of the educators told me and another nurse who was going to work on G15 Lymphoma/Myeloma that if we wanted to see the future of cancer care and be a part of it, that unit was where we want to be,” says Williams. “That was exciting to hear and it’s definitely true, we are making progress every day in our efforts to treat and eliminate cancer.”
Dispelling myths about oncology nursing
While some of Williams’ patients are very sick and stay at the hospital for weeks at a time, she finds fulfillment in connecting with each person and helping them in their time of need. COVID-19 has brought its own set of challenges including visitor restrictions, so Williams steps in as much as possible to listen and provide extra support when family can’t be at the bedside.
“There’s no doubt that there are sad moments, but I don’t find oncology nursing to be depressing — I learn so much from my patients and am inspired by their strength and determination,” she says. “Every day that I can work with a patient is another opportunity to make their life better.”
Recently, Williams gathered in a hospital hallway to celebrate as one of her patients rang the bell, marking the end of his cancer treatment.
“He was one of our patients who received CAR-T cell therapy, so it was incredible to see how this new therapy is offering hope to patients and their families,” says Williams. “There wasn’t a dry eye among the care staff as he was discharged home in remission.”
As new investigational protocols and new drugs for CAR T cell therapy become available to treat more cancer types, Williams is constantly learning the latest developments and best practices. She’s instrumental in helping deliver immunotherapies in a safe fashion, as she closely monitors patients to identify any serious side effects, such as neurotoxicity.
Williams says she’s proud to work with a great interdisciplinary team and to have supportive leadership that makes sure they have the resources needed to provide world-class care to patients.
“To be part of a team that’s making groundbreaking advancements in cancer care is fulfilling,” she says. “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”