Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
By providing support and education to aid patients in coping with cancer, nurses can help these individuals make the most of their lives.
Since CURE® magazine launched the Extraordinary Healers® event, the winners and finalists, whose ages span the years from early adulthood through retirement, have represented both large and small cancer centers and served in numerous roles: pediatric nurse, outpatient chemotherapy nurse, inpatient chemotherapy nurse, psychologist, navigator, educator, clinical trial research nurse, home care nurse, transplant nurse and insurance nurse (who had never met her nominator until the event).
Nurses from 10 states have been honored with the top award, and the finalists have introduced a dozen more to the mix.
Different states, different ages, different specialties, but when you ask these individuals “Why oncology nursing?” each gives the same reason: a desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients. Unlike many other nurses who focus on singular moments or issues in patients’ lives, oncology nurses partner with their patients as advocates, staying with them through the joys of success and the pain and fear when treatment fails. These relationships can last for a week, a month or years.
Oncology has grown so that it now offers many more treatment options, better pain control and a greater understanding of side effects and how to manage them. More patients than ever are moving into survivorship as they emerge from treatment, and with them every step along the way are oncology nurses, who bring not only their skills but also their hearts and souls.
One nurse said her best moments are when she goes out to the waiting room to bring back patients for initial treatment, because she gets the opportunity to ease their fear and offer reassurance. It can be life-changing for patients, too, when they find the nurse who will answer all their questions and treat them and their caregivers with respect and dignity during what could be the most difficult time of their lives.
The support doesn’t stop there. Oncology nurses continue to build these relationships, forming bonds that allow them to ask the deeper questions when something seems amiss. Maybe patients experience untreated pain or, perhaps, depression. The nurses know them and their caregivers and understand when it is time to probe. One patient called this perception a sixth sense.
As a patient moves toward healing or death, the nurse is there. A caregiver summed up that relationship this year in an essay about her mother’s oncology nurse. “(She) has given more to me and my family than I could imagine,” the caregiver wrote. “She ultimately took the journey with us, as most oncology nurses do, sometimes without even knowing it. She stood by us during the 5½ years that Mother battled through 16 different chemotherapy regimens and … was there at the end of life when Mother was no longer able to continue fighting.”
As treatment moves out of the hospital, oncology nurses have followed, offering information and assistance away from cancer centers, at oncologists’ or radiologists’ offices, online and over the phone.
By providing support and education to aid patients in coping with cancer, nurses can help these individuals make the most of their lives. And it is not uncommon for oncology nurses to feel that they get as much as they give; as one nurse commented, “Working with people who are in a scary situation and hearing their stories is a constant reminder to me about what is important in life.”
This year, two colleagues and a caregiver nominated our three finalists: a pediatric stem cell transplant nurse, a clinical nurse educator and a nurse navigator. Their stories are different, but they share a commitment to caring for patients and going to great lengths to do it well.
And we have added a new state: Mississippi.