Chemo nurses and radiation therapists

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

Chemotherapy nurses and radiation therapists provide much of the hands-on care to cancer patients. As a result, these professionals have a profound impact on the quality of care that patients receive.

I attend a weekly breakfast club for guys who have had cancer. I asked them to describe the qualities in a chemo nurse or radiation therapist that made their weeks of treatment easier.

Most everyone said, in one way or another, “They saw me as a person, not just as a patient.”

One man continued, “They took the time to get to know me as an individual. I could tell that I wasn’t just a body part or type of cancer that needed attention. That made a huge difference to me.”

When a person is first diagnosed with cancer, there’s often a sense that life is out of control. The best nurses and therapists provide a sense of quiet calm and say, in words and action, “We’ll get you through this.”

Sometimes it is a matter of recognizing and acknowledging the patient’s anxiety. New cancer patients feel especially raw and vulnerable. The best caregivers put patients at ease by witnessing that fear and not dismissing it.

Some professionals seem to have an almost telepathic sense when things aren’t right. They pick up subtle cues from the patient’s body language and facial expressions and then gently probe for more information.

The potential side effects of cancer treatment are overwhelming. Good nurses and therapists clearly explain what’s to be expected, what’s unusual, and when to call for help. That sounds simple, but it isn’t because every patient is so different. Discussions need to be tailored to the patient’s level of understanding and style of learning. And family members need to be involved as well.

Personal warmth and good humor are also essential for providing cancer care. No one wants a crabby nurse or therapist. I’m constantly amazed at how much humor is present in oncology. I think people relish laughter when sadness is never far away.

At the end of treatment, patients invariably say, “I’m going to miss those guys.” While providing complex treatment, the nurses and therapists provided security, comfort, and kindness. And they became friends.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: Oct. 29, 2016

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