World Cancer Day 2016

Today is WORLD CANCER DAY, I write you an experience I had coming into contact with a patient who was diagnosed with cancer. I hope it may inspire some of you to choose the oncology path, will keep it short and sweet.

Nurses who have chosen the path of oncology have my utmost respect. For those who are thinking “what is she babbling on about oncology?” well an oncology nurse is someone who provides care for patients who are suffering from cancer as well as monitoring those who are at risk of developing cancer. These nurses become part of the person’s life, see them throughout this difficult and distressing time and not only are they there for the patients but are also there for the family.

To protect his right to confidentiality, let’s call him, Mr Andrews, he was 82 years old. During my shift I was asked to monitor Mr Andrews, whilst I was recording his observations the doctor came in with the results of his biopsy. As a first year student, I thought this would be a great learning experience, so I stayed and listened. The doctor informed Mr Andrews that unfortunately his cancer had returned, it was aggressive and all they could do was hope for the best after more chemo-radiotherapy. After the doctor had finished his chat with Mr Andrews and left, I wanted to know what was going on in Mr Andrews head. I asked him, how he was feeling and if he wanted me to call anyone. He took my hand and remained in silence for a long time. I wasn’t sure what my role was in this situation and what I was supposed to do. So I sat with him, in silence. After a while, he said that he didn’t want any more treatment. He was done. He had 82 good years, a loving family and now it was time for him to go. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I asked why he felt that way. He responded by saying the staff that had previously took care of him were absolute “angels”, they stood by him when he was in agony and crying with pain. He had seen so much in those 82 years. He felt, cancer coming back was nature’s way of telling him, enough. He didn’t want that last few months of his life to be spent suffering from side-effects. He wanted to go home, see his grandchildren and be at peace on his own terms.

At the end of my shift, I was thinking about Mr Andrews and tried to gather all my thoughts together. He had cancer. Again. He was dying. It cannot be cured. He was not sad. He was not shocked by the results. He was not in much pain. He had a loving family. He wanted to die with dignity. With his family around him. He was loved by many. It was his choice. After that, all I could think was how brave he was, he fought the cancer twice already and third time round he decided enough was enough. He was a happy man and he wanted to end life like that. I should be okay with that.

In short, caring for patients who are suffering from cancer requires you to listen attentively. Respect their choices and support them from the moment they come into contact with you. You having a presence, holding their hand, smiling, bringing them a cup of tea, all the little things one may think is a simple task leads to you making their last moments be at peace. You make a difference, even if you sit in silence holding their hand.

Why don’t you save a life today and hop on over to Cancer Research UK and make a donation to transform the lives of people who are currently suffering from cancer: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org

Further Reading:

  1. Rieger PT, Yarbro CH. Role of the Oncology Nurse. In: Kufe DW, Pollock RE, Weichselbaum RR, et al., editors. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 6th edition. Hamilton (ON): BC Decker; 2003.Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK13570/
  2. Cancer.Net. (2015).Types of Oncologist.Available: http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/cancer-care-team/types-oncologists. Last accessed 04 Feb 2016.
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