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.”