Transcending the Chaos of Cancer

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 12, Volume 12, Issue 1



Christine Stone has been an oncology nurse for 27 years, which represents her entire nursing career. She began in 1991 as a new graduate staff nurse on an inpatient oncology unit and since then has held roles as a staff nurse in radiation oncology, an oncology nurse educator, a bone marrow transplant coordinator and, currently, an oncology nurse navigator.

When I came to work at Inova Fairfax Hospital in 1994, I had already been an oncology nurse for more than two decades and an oncology clinical nurse specialist for 15 of those years - hence hence, I had considerable exposure to many nurses at the bedside and felt well-equipped to spot a potential shining star when I saw one. I realized early on that Christine fit this characterization to a T. She was and remains the consummate holistic oncology nurse, as proficient in her communication and support skills as she is in her technical expertise.

In each of her roles, Christine has integrated the highest standards of evidence-based oncology nursing care. On the inpatient unit, concerned about infection rates, she championed a quality improvement project to optimize central line care. In radiation oncology, she led the department effort to integrate the Oncology Nursing Society’s Putting Evidence Into Practice radiation dermatitis skin care guideline. As a bone marrow transplant coordinator, she excelled in her patient educator role and used adult learning theory, requiring patients to “teach back” their understanding of complex therapies and related toxicities so that they would know when to call for help. In her current role, Christine has instituted a quarterly debriefing intervention for oncology staff to assist with their compassion fatigue and grief following patient deaths.

Currently, as an oncology nurse navigator, Christine interacts with patients and families in the inpatient oncology unit, the infusion clinic, the intensive care unit and radiation oncology. Her assistance ranges from managing symptoms to accessing community resources, calling worried long-distance families, educating patients having problems understanding their care, providing emotional support to everyone in her sphere of influence and problem-solving during difficult discharge planning scenarios. One of her best contributions involves undertaking a highly individualized patient/family-needs assessment that includes the identification of strengths rather than just deficits. Christine leads two support groups (breast cancer and women’s survivorship) and teaches patient classes on preoperative breast surgery and chemotherapy. She participates in community education events to heighten cancer awareness within the lay public and is considered a highly credible teacher.

When I first met Christine, she had been a nurse for just three years. Now, 24 years later, I have witnessed firsthand how Christine has helped hundreds of those in crisis transcend the chaos of cancer through her guidance and advocacy. Everyone who meets her marvels at her interpersonal savvy and the respect she has earned from her interdisciplinary colleagues. Case in point: a commentary from the oncology social worker Christine works with. She poignantly described Christine’s knowledge about the importance of providing end-of-life care that facilitates meaningful moments, closure and saying goodbye, and how it can help family members process their the grief:

“Christine is the epitome of compassion, determination, focus and selflessness. Her kindness comes through in every interaction with our patients and their families. She truly makes a difference. For example, almost singlehandedly, Christine arranged for a 17-year-old girl, about to graduate from high school, to celebrate this landmark event at her mother’s bedside in the hospital. The girl’s family, hospital employees, the principal and staff from the high school all gathered to commemorate this milestone with decorations, cake and much fanfare just days before the patient died. This is just one example of how Christine always goes above and beyond for our patients and their loved ones.”

Writer Sara Moss-Wolfe had this to say about nurses, which describes Christine’s unique qualities so eloquently: “Nurses — one of the few blessings of being ill.”