How Oncology Nurses Are Your Supportive Companions On the Cancer Journey

November 2, 2020
Stephanie Russell, Psy.D.

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healer® Vol. 14, Volume 14,

One patient shares their story of how her oncology nurse changed her cancer journey by being there with her every step of the way.

My life abruptly changed in late spring 2019. At 45 years old, I had been clipping along well overall, although I had a lingering cough and neck and shoulder pain that felt nerve-based. Instead, it resulted in a diagnosis of primary mediastinal type B lymphoma.

Mine was a very aggressive lymphoma identified as stage 4 because it was both above and below the diaphragm. I was described by my oncologist as “falling apart” before his eyes and started treatment within two days of the official diagnosis.

My treatment plan involved chemotherapy infused 24 hours a day, five days at a time. I would then spend 12 days at home and return to the hospital for another cycle. In all, I underwent six cycles that concluded on Sept. 27, 2019. On my second day of hospital treatment, in walked Susan Long, my nurse for the next 12 days. Little did I know how meaningful this oncology nurse would become in my life. I immensely respect the work of chemotherapy nurses and their level of compassion, care and attentiveness, and Susan embodies these traits.

A chemotherapy nurse for 40 years, she has the ability to touch the lives of her patients. She listens, provides encouragement, consults, advocates and educates. Susan answered my many questions regarding the fairly foreign world of oncology that I instantaneously was immersed in.

While I was in the hospital, my visitors — rotating friends who spent the night to keep me company — and my walks around the floor helped keep me sane. Susan delighted in my family and friends and provided a smile, support and kindness to my children, husband, parents, siblings, nieces and friends. She remembered our conversations from one cycle to another, and we would pick up where we’d left off. From the second cycle and through each one thereafter, she was my admitting nurse and always made sure I had an IV pole that could be pushed easily on the floor. (Not all IV poles are created equal!)

Susan supported me emotionally. She listened to my fears with empathy and commended me for my positivity. I spoke often about a positive mindset and the significance of it for me, as I knew, as a psychologist, the importance of the power of the mind to aid with healing. We spoke about the movie “Heal” on Netflix and how it served as an empowering tool to aid my outlook. We also talked about my determination to defeat the cancer and live cancer-free.

On three separate occasions, I had a chemotherapy leak due to faulty IV parts. One of them involved a bag explosion that sprayed all over Susan, her chemotherapy gown and the counter. It happened about two hours before Susan was going off shift. She went beyond the call of duty and stayed until the incident reports were written, a new bag was ordered for me and things had settled down in my room. The grace and dignity with which she handled the situation and spillage were remarkable.

In late October, my PET scan showed no evidence of disease. I’m now in post-chemotherapy recovery, and Susan and I have spoken about what I would like to do and the services I’d like to offer in my therapy practice when I return to work. I know I want to make an impact on others in the oncology world in the manner in which Susan has made an impact on me. She is a remarkable caregiver, supporting her patients in an authentic and genuine way. I feel lucky to have had her as a part of my treatment team and fortunate to have her as one of my nurses. I am tremendously grateful and proud to now be able to call her a friend!

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