Oncology nurses have a special understanding of their patients and their patients' needs. One patient shares their story on how that special understanding made a major difference in her cancer journey.
Joan Rataczak, B.S.N., RN, CPHON, is an extraordinary oncology nurse at the Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in Minneapolis. Put simply, Joan gets my special kid, Liza, and we feel loved in her care.
Liza has a cognitive disability that challenges her understanding of the sweep of time, meaning that she doesn’t understand how long a three-hour chemo treatment really is. She watches the clock and asks over and over again how much longer it will be until she can leave. Joan exhibits the following qualities:
Helpfulness. Joan truly understands that Liza’s biggest stressor around treatment is being in the bed at the clinic for a very long time, so she does everything she can to make our visits as short as possible. She anticipates our infusion session, getting the anti-nausea medications and port- access tray ready and requesting the chemotherapy drugs from the pharmacy before we arrive.
Expertise. Joan is an experienced and skilled oncology nurse. She carefully and expertly accesses Liza’s port, distracting her and then counting to make the needle poke less painful. She gets blood return the first time, every single time.
Most importantly for our family, Joan keeps things moving. She minds the beeping pumps better than any other nurse who has cared for us. She appears in our room when the pump beeps and starts the next medicine or bag of fluid without delay, every single time. I don’t know how she responds so quickly, because she cares for other patients, too. Maybe it’s because she knows that saving time is what Liza needs most.
Joan watches Liza’s condition from week to week and notices changes over time. She has given us advice on concerns including irritated skin around the gastronomy tube, rashes, dehydration, recognizing C. diff (Clostridioides difficile) and anticipating scan results. It’s always helpful, practical and spot on.
Compassion. Joan listens and understands Liza. This is not easy because of Liza’s speech articulation challenges; other caregivers often look to me for translation. Joan senses how important it is to give Liza time to answer. Joan asks her about her week, remembering important events from previous discussions, like prom, Liza’s birthday, graduation, a new job rotation, school events and her Make-A-Wish trip. She spends time looking at photos with us — lots of photos. She shares our joy in Liza’s accomplishments and milestones. She appreciates Liza’s unique humor.
Joan supports our whole family. If Liza’s dad, sister, brother or a family friend drives her to chemotherapy, Joan knows our drill. She supports my integrative philosophy and clean enteral food preferences. She shares our relief when scans show no evidence of disease — and shared our fear, dread and worry when Liza relapsed.
Liza had 11 months of front-line treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma, seven months of relapse treatment until her body could no longer tolerate it and 12 months of maintenance chemotherapy through September 2019. That’s about 30 months and probably nearly 100 clinic visits. Joan was likely our nurse for half those visits. That’s a whole lot of loving, extraordinary care!
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