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By Your Side: Oncology Nurses Provide Care, Inspiration

BY Christopher Pirschel
PUBLISHED April 17, 2017
WHEN IT COMES TO the cancer journey, it’s almost impossible not to have a tale to tell. In some instances, you may be the protagonist, overcoming insurmountable odds and waking each day to slay the dragon. Sometimes you are a companion on the adventure, supporting and lifting up the hero when times are tough. Some individuals may play the wise sage who offers guidance and instruction to intrepid adventurers. And others may find themselves all three.

There are stories everywhere, and as examples, two oncology nurses have shared their experiences of inspiration and commitment to cancer care. With support from their patients, colleagues and professional organizations, these nurses have grown and evolved in order to provide the best possible care. Thanks to the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Foundation, each was given an opportunity to attend the annual ONS Congress, a conference that brings together oncology nurses from across the country and world to further their education so they can continue to provide high-quality, cutting-edge care. With help from donations, the foundation provides such opportunities and others through awards, grants and scholarships.

From Accountant to Oncology Nurse

When ONS member Maggie Smith, D.N.P., M.S.N., RN, OCN, was a child, she was good with numbers and wanted to be an accountant. For her, the thought of poring over ledgers or balancing the books seemed like a golden dream. But her father saw something different.

“It was actually my dad who encouraged me to go into nursing,” Smith remembers. “I went into oncology because I saw great opportunities, my friends were encouraging me and I always enjoyed a challenge.

Oncology was all new to me, and I was intrigued by it. I’ve been here for 17 years, and I can tell you honestly that there’s nothing else like it.” Smith had no idea that, one day, she would accompany her father on his own journey with non-small cell lung cancer. “I went from being a nurse on the outside to a daughter who had to care for her father with this terminal disease,” Smith remembers. “It brought my dad and I even closer together — and we were already close. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his battle. But it was an entirely different perspective for me, and through it all I gained an even greater appreciation for patients and their families.” Smith takes inspiration from her experiences and continually seeks new opportunities to grow as an oncology nurse, including through her foundation-sponsored attendance at the ONS Congress.

“I was able to use the educational sessions to become aware of the latest and greatest advancements in terms of diagnostics and medicine,” Smith notes. “It helped me become more aware of side-effect management and preventive care for my patients. My time at congress even helped me develop my own evidence-based research, where I learned about train-the-trainer programs that could help educate my colleagues.”

Smith has embraced her experiences in oncology. She makes a point of celebrating victories with her patients, and she strives to learn and listen as they progress through treatment and into survivorship. Even then, she and her patients exchange updates about major life events such as birth announcements and anniversaries.

Dual Citizenship: A Patient and Nurse

Oncology nurse and ONS member Donna Clark, RN, B.S.N., OCN, always knew she wanted to help people. Growing up, she figured she was destined to become a nurse. Her experiences and personal triumphs have only further confirmed that dedication.

“I truly believe God placed, deep in my heart, the desire to be an oncology nurse,” Clark says. During her nursing years, she says, “I lost my father to lung cancer, my mother to gastric cancer, and I was diagnosed with advanced endometrial cancer in 2014. I had to take a year off from working as a clinical oncology nurse to do all the radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries necessary for a successful remission. I think of myself as dual citizen, as both nurse and patient.” While Clark was away from her job, many new treatments, medications and therapies were approved. She wanted to close the educational gap that had opened during her absence, and she looked to the ONS Foundation for help.

“I couldn’t afford to attend ONS’s annual congress. The 2016 ONS Foundation Congress scholarship helped me get there,” Clark notes. “The scholarship netted me invaluable opportunities to connect with my fellow nurses and to bring evidence-based practices back home to educate patients and colleagues at my institution.”

Clark has a special connection to her patients. During her own cancer treatment, some of them reached out to Clark’s supervisor. “They sent me music, flowers and encouraging notes,” she remembers. “One of the best parts of nursing is just that — the relationships with those we care for return it to us when it’s most needed. That makes me want to strive to become a better nurse for them and my future patients.”
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