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The Wonder of the Oncology Nurse

What do oncology nurses mean to their patients? This is an inside view from one grateful patient.
PUBLISHED May 31, 2017
Jane has earned three advanced degrees and had several fulfilling careers as a librarian, rehabilitation counselor and college teacher. Presently she does freelance writing. Her articles include the subjects of hearing loss and deafness, service dogs and struggling with cancer. She has been a cancer survivor since 2010.

She has myelodysplastic syndrome, which is rare, and would love to communicate with others who have MDS.
One of the most underrated professions in the world is that of the nurse. The doctors are definitely at the top of the medical pyramid, but any smart doctor will acknowledge that they couldn’t administer care or cure their patients without the nurses.

It is the nurses who are in the hospital in the middle of the night when a crisis occurs, and a decision must be made to contact the doctor. It is the nurses whose sharp eyes observe any subtle change that could be life-threatening and alert the doctors. It is the nurses who administer the medications and watch for adverse reactions. It is the nurses who hold the patients’ hand through pain, vomiting, side effects and sometimes passing over to the other side.

I am not a nurse myself, but I know and respect them. I had several nursing students in classes when I taught at a community college, and watched them studying terminology I could never pronounce, much less understand.

I have been the recipient of nursing care in several settings ranging from surgery to office, to oncology. I have several friends and a relative who work to the brink of exhaustion daily, but truly knows what they are doing is lifesaving.

However, the oncology nurses are the ones I know the best. There is no other specialty like this one. These are the people who, along with my oncologist, have not only kept me alive, but motivated to undergo painful chemo.

I have myelodysplastic syndrome and was on oral chemo for six years. I passed the chemo nurses in the hallway when visiting my doctor, and observed how nice they were. When my cancer worsened, I needed to have 10 shots in the stomach and arms over five days each month. I was terrified and experienced nightmares about the bad reactions I would have. I stewed for days and felt close to tears when I met my first chemo nurse for treatments, along with one of the special lab technicians.

These two people were fantastic! They gave me a brochure and explained all the side effects. They explained why the shots had to be taken in the stomach and the back of the arms. They used just the right combination of empathy and humor to relax me.

I also have a rare immune disorder and experienced several problems the first cycle. At one point, I asked the nurses to “let me go and die.” Of course I didn’t mean it, but was so sick I didn’t care. The alternating diarrhea, constipation, pain, fatigue, chills and fever all overwhelmed me. My stomach looked like sunburn and began to peel. (It still does but I ignore it now). It was not my finest hour.

To add to the entire nightmare, my doctor’s father died suddenly, and she was out of the country. However, the nurses soldiered on, emailed her and kept me on track – each and every one of them!

I lived through that cycle—and the next, and the next. While the pain never goes away, I do know more what to expect. My doctor returned and I felt like my mother was back! Another article I write will be on the great physicians who choose oncology as their specialty.

I asked one of the nurses how they do this job, because they lose so many of their patients. Her answer inspired me. “I have been here 18 years and taken care of the same patients for 18 years. I also get to meet nice people like you. What is there not to like?”

WOW!!! What a terrific attitude. Another nurse confided to me that they get to know their patients so well that when we are walking down the hall they can tell how we feel and may alert the doctors.

I also have a service dog and the nurses are wonderful to her also. Since my service dog is an extension of me, that is very important. 

Oncology nurses are with us day in and day out. We know they are fighting every battle with us. The other cancer patients and I have told them repeatedly that they are family. One of the nurses mentioned to me that they see us more than their own family, and that is true.

So, what makes an oncology nurse so special? They take on a profession where they know they will lose their patients. They do everything they can to fight and prolong the patients’ lives. They administer medications that give people quality of life. They know all about me and my family, my hobbies and my vacations. They are always there to laugh, comfort and hold my hand. No wonder these people are so special. I call them my “angels on earth.”    
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