AN INTERVIEW WITH SARA SARGENTE, RN, OCN
FOR SARA SARGENTE, RN, OCN, it was the middle of the night when she heard her calling to be an oncology nurse. From a young age, she had known she would be a nurse as she watched her grandmother leave for work in her starched white uniform and cap. But it was another moment that clarified oncology nursing as her calling.
She was only 13 when her grandfather was sent home on hospice for his final days after being diagnosed with colon cancer. She and her mother, an EMT, were caring for him, answering the tiny bell they had given him to ring for care.
“I was sleeping downstairs one night,” she recalls, “when I heard the bell. My mom didn’t wake so I went to help him by myself.”
Sara had no fear that night, she says, nor was she afraid when he died a few days later. Instead, she calls it a comfortable feeling as the family played his favorite songs and he closed his eyes for the last time.
While caring for him that night, Sara says she knew that her career in nursing would be as an oncology nurse, a vision she did not relinquish, even when everyone in nursing school told her she would have to do a few years of other, more basic care before going on to oncology.
Indeed, her first job was as a floor nurse in a general surgery unit, lasting only a few months before she applied for an oncology position at another hospital across town. It was a longer drive, but she knew it was where she belonged. After serving in radiation for a few years, she was tapped by a mentor to apply for a position as a nurse navigator for patients with head and neck cancer. “They go through so much with this cancer,” she says. “It is so very difficult, and their quality of life is affected. They can’t go out to eat with their family and enjoy the simplest things that we take for granted.”
Often, she goes to see patients at home, relieving them of the lengthy drive many of them must take to get to treatment. She facilitates a support group through the organization Support for People with Oral, Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC), and became certified in blood management to respond to the needs of the Jehovah’s Witness community members who do not allow the use of any blood products during surgery.
In 2017, she is beginning her second term as president of her local Oncology Nursing Society chapter, which she helped found to provide a closer group for area nurses.
“We have a core of nurses here who are so loving and compassionate, and they are not worried about themselves, but keep asking what we can do for the patients,” she says.
Sara oversaw a fundraiser that brought in $10,000 the first year the chapter was in operation. The group established a fund called Acts of Kindness, and any patient could apply. Last year they raised $15,000.
“Instead of giving it to nurses, we all decided we wanted to support the patients with $100 gift cards for gas or prescriptions or whatever they needed. For example, one woman who had a mastectomy needed a button-up-the-front shirt. That kind of thing. We have patients who are so poor they cannot buy their medicine.”
Sara is supported not only by the hospital, but also by her family, her husband and four children. As the third-generation healer in her family, she is watching the fourth generation prepare as her daughter trains to be a radiation therapist — in oncology, of course.