The Heart of Nursing: Oncology Nurse Provides Comfort and Hope
Donna Jann, RN, is an oncology nurse at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “Being a cancer nurse was like a calling for me,” she says. “When I was in nursing school, my aunt was dying of colon cancer. I knew from the beginning that this was what I wanted to do.” Here, in her own words, Jann relates one of the many meaningful patient encounters she has experienced during her 22 years in oncology nursing.
Working on an oncology unit, I frequently have experiences that remind me how fragile life is. A few months ago, I was caring for a 35-year-old female patient who had just been diagnosed with acute leukemia. This is a tough diagnosis because it requires long-term treatment, and I knew that she was going to be very ill for a long time. I also knew that the prognosis was not good.
When I walked into the room, the patient and her mother were crying. My intuition told me to seize the opportunity to sit down and talk with them because I knew what they were going to go through. At first, I just put my arms around the two of them and held them as they cried. Then we began to talk.
At first, the patient was in denial. She couldn’t believe this was happening. Then she began to express her fears. She was a school teacher and was studying for her master’s degree. She was also in the process of trying to have a baby at the time. This diagnosis had just turned her whole life upside down. “Maybe I won’t live or be able to have children,” she said, her mind racing. “What are we going to do about money? What is this going to do to my marriage and my career?”
With each fear she expressed, I encouraged her to cross that bridge when she came to it. “Let’s just focus on what we need to deal with today,” I answered gently. “It’s just too much to process everything all at once. You need time to get used to a “new normal” – that’s what I call it.”
The patient’s mom was expressing her sense of helplessness. It’s very heart wrenching for a mother to have to see her child go through anything like this, especially at such a young age. “We don’t want this to happen to our children,” I said to her. “But you’re here for a reason because you are the mom, and you love your daughter so much and she needs you. She feels better when you’re here. You’re like the mom taking care of a baby again, and we will take care of all of you.”
As we talked, my patient and her mother told me about their strong foundation of faith, which they knew would help get them through this ordeal. They talked about the peace that they had knowing the Great Physician was giving doctors the wisdom and knowledge to move forward with the treatment process and helping manage the disease. They found comfort in their belief that God sees our sadness and fears. “He’s figuring it all out for you,” I assured. “And you’re going to meet more wonderful people along the way who will take care of you and become your friends.”
Explanations of the treatments that the patient would be receiving and what she could expect were intertwined in our conversation. I explained that she would be very sick for a while, but with each step of treatment, she would be closer to getting better. “We’re going to support you every step of the way and take care of you like we would a little baby,” I reassured her.
When I leave a patient’s room knowing that I gave them a sense of peace and hope, it fills my soul and makes me feel as though my day is complete. I may go home absolutely exhausted mentally and physically, but I go home with a great sense of fulfillment.
Experiences like this are not unusual on an oncology unit. But, as nurses, we should never lose sight of the difference we can make by sharing our human side with our patients and their families.