I BELIEVE that cancer has a way of showing up just when other troubles are present or brewing.
FOR INSTANCE, AFTER 20 YEARS as an infection control nurse with advance training and certification, I was forced into what I term, “economic retirement.” Next, on Dec. 6, 2012, I lost my beloved 14-year-old pet, a Maltese canine, to Cushing’s disease. Maybe both losses were inevitable, but they were no less disheartening to me.
Finally, by the end of that December, I received notification that my annual mammogram was somewhat abnormal and requiring follow up. I thought, “This can’t be anything serious; it’s only been a year since my last normal screening.” How devastating it was to get that confirmed breast biopsy report of a malignant tumor in my left breast in March 2013.
I felt like my world was caving in on me. I’ve been a registered nurse for 34 years and, for the first time, I found myself in a panic. At times I was confused or indecisive concerning my health and future. Would anyone be there to understand and help me in my struggles? Who would help me manage the many silent feelings regarding breast cancer? More frightening, would I passively be treated like the nurse who should know it all?
In May, I did well through surgery, even though I ended up having a partial mastectomy instead of the lumpectomy. No chemotherapy was needed at this time, but radiation would be next. I was fortunate to qualify for brachytherapy radiation. However, it still was an unfamiliar procedure, and I was very anxious about short- and long-term side effects and discomforts. I didn’t have a clue as to how well I would tolerate the procedure.
Melinda B. Roach, RN, BSN, with Diane Crawford, RN, BSN, CIC [right]
In early June, as I was registering in the VCU Massey Cancer Center’s radiation oncology clinic, I met Mrs. Melinda (Mel) B. Roach, RN, prior to my being prepared for radiation treatment. Mel was very pleasant with a caring, relaxed and confident approach. She demonstrated familiarity with infection control techniques. If there’s one thing that makes an infection control nurse relax and remain calm, it’s to see caregivers utilizing the standard principles while rendering care. During the minor procedure of installing a balloon catheter in my breast by the physicians, she was attentive and explained the procedures to me. The administration of the radiation was to start in two days. I thought, “I hope things continue to go this well.” Looks like positive first impressions certainly matter when it comes to reassuring patients.
On Monday morning, Mel greeted me with an enthusiastic attitude. Her approach made me feel safe and allowed me to concentrate on myself and getting better. It had been awhile since I only considered my well-being. She asked me if I needed something to help me relax while I lay isolated in the room during my radiation treatment. I said, “Since there is a CD player in here, what kind of music is available?” I really didn’t think I could or would be accommodated. By the first radiation session, I got to listen to smooth jazz. The treatment was painless and time seemed to breeze by, but something was missing.
The second day of my radiation treatment, I felt a certain comfort level and trust in Mel. I asked Mel if there were any gospel CDs available. That afternoon, even with her hectic schedule, she got two gospel CDs from somewhere. As I listened to uplifting spiritual music, I started recognizing my blessings. I felt my burdens and past pains diminishing. At this point, nothing was more important than my fight against this cancer. I relaxed so deeply that a few times the radiation team monitoring me from the window (outer parameters of the radiation field) called my name to make sure I was all right or “still alive.”
I thank God for placing Mrs. Roach into His plan of care. She certainly supported my spiritual needs at every session. No detail was too small for her attention. She arranged the twice-daily, five-day treatment schedule with consideration of my transportation issues and other medical needs.
When I expressed a desire to speak to a social worker, all I had to do was ask Mel. I was cared for as a whole human being, as a patient as well as a nurse, who could express moments of sadness and anxiety and resolve them. I felt blessed to experience such genuine, protected and holistic care.
In my entire years of nursing experience, I realized that it was a rarity to run into a nurse with such defined traits of a true patient advocate and holistic caregiver. I will never take such total quality care for granted.