Cancer doesn't happen in a vacuum. It hurls itself into your life like a brick wrapped in flaming rags shattering through a window.
When cancer broke into my life, I was a single mother of a teenage daughter who was challenging parental boundaries, paying a mortgage on a single income, and finding out my boyfriend wasn't supportive. Suddenly, I was on light duty from my nursing job and living on the decreased income of healthcare benefits. What if I couldn't pay the mortgage? I feared becoming an adult child moving back in with my parents.
Working in the oncology clinic, I hear similar stories from patients. Referring them to an oncology social worker, spiritual care practitioner, or nurse navigator are options, but what help can a busy bedside nurse offer a troubled patient now, in the moment?
During treatment, I built a cancer toolbox to control my fear. Now, as a survivor and oncology nurse, I share its contents with patients. You can also provide your patients with these tools to ease their anxiety.
Help patients to prioritize their problems. Often, they feel guilty about their inability to perform their normal roles, about interrupting the lives of family or friends for help during treatment. When I was recovering from surgery, I couldn't work on my nursing unit, and I needed my mom to stay with me. Instruct patients that, for now, fighting cancer is their job and their first priority. The cancer support team is also here to guide them through.
Utilize available financial resources. Stress the importance of following all of the requirements and deadlines, even if they feel daunting at first. Thanks to accessing all of my benefits, I did not fall behind on mortgage payments.
Ask patients about family members or friends volunteering to help. Focus them on the beneficial relationships in their lives. Trying to convince a partner to stay wastes energy better used for deepening relationships with people who really care.
Consider seeing a qualified counselor. I give this advice even to patients who have strong family and friendship support, as I did. During cancer treatment, patients like me wake up in the middle of the night, worrying that maybe we're going to die. In my experience, talking about this with family and friends makes them cry or fear you're giving up. A counselor, a "paid-for best friend" if you will, can help you sort through this major upheaval. Her job is to listen to your darkest fears and craziest thoughts, all while offering sound advice. This, in turn, can help create the blueprint for a new life out of the rubble of cancer.
Cancer passes on few gifts, but time for profound introspection is one of them. In your experience of cancer as a nurse and/or survivor, what else would you put in a patient's toolbox?
Do you use what's in your toolbox to reinvent and repair?
The 2013 Nurse Compensation Survey Results Are In Michelle Bragazzi, BS, RN, 5/3/2013 32 In February, TheONC surveyed more than 600 oncology nurses to find out more about their careers. We wanted to know if they felt adequately compensated and satisfied within their ...
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