I recently returned from the annual Oncology Nursing Society Congress where CURE hosts an event that honors oncology nurses. We choose one nurse as the Extraordinary Healer based on essays sent to us from patients, nurses and physicians about their nurse and how he or she is extraordinary.
This event, which CURE has been doing for 11 years, is one of my favorites because oncology nurses are some of the most amazing people on earth, and they make the difference for patients with cancer.
As the mistress of ceremonies, I spent a lot of my time on the stage looking out at the nurses where the aura of healing surrounded every one of them. I could see their passion and their compassion. And, I was thrilled to see how many young nurses were in attendance this year. Their enthusiasm and joy at their job was incredible. These nurses spend hours at bedsides, in offices, in infusion suites, in classrooms and in the hearts and souls of their patients.
In addition to their medical skills they advocate for their patients and the patients’ caregivers. They come alongside the oncologists and the surgeons and the radiation oncologists to not only support healing, but also to provide the tools their patients need to life a full life as they continue after treatment ends — or to have a healthy death, resolved in the issues of life.
Their commitment to lifelong learning is reflected in the letters after their names. From RN (registered nurse) to OCN (Oncology Certified Nurse) to AOCN (Advcanced Oncology Certified Nurse) to CPON (Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse) to Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Specialists (ACONS) to the others I have forgotten. I think it would be great to give patients a little book that explains the hours of study that goes into each one.
The bottom line is that they want to be the best educated in their field so their patients will benefit.
And, in addition to education, they bring abilities that cannot be tested for. Skills such as the ability to calm us and show compassion, joy, humor, and empathy.
They have answered a call that may or may not have been what they had planned for. In fact, it is not uncommon for nurses to tell me that when they graduated, they had decided oncology was the only area where they would NEVER work, thinking that they could not endure feeling too deeply the pain of cancer.
Then "circumstances," as one of the nurses said, put her in oncology — and now she knows she has found her home. "Somewhere in my soul I knew this was where I belonged," a nurse told me.
But how to judge from all the essays who is better or best. The finalists without fail when called always say with surprise, "but there are others who do so much more than I do." It is so difficult to choose finalists and a winner from all the essays we get because I see all oncology nurses as extraordinary.
I often asked myself, "How can there be people like this?" Cut from an entirely different cloth woven with compassion, professionalism, understanding, selflessness dedication and fearless determination. Cut from cloth woven with a depth of humanity to those enduring the beast called cancer.
Oncology nurses are so courageous to engage with the sickest of us, often encountering the worst of us when fear replaces our manners. And yet, somehow we know that they can take it. They can take our fear and our anger and our hopelessness.
So here is your task. If you are still in treatment, tell your oncology nurse how much you appreciate his or her dedication. If you are out of treatment, call or email. They will really appreciate it.