Retired Nurses And Their Memories Of Cancer

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.

I routinely speak with retired nurses and other health professionals who are concerned about a loved one with cancer. The word “cancer” often terrifies them because they went through training decades ago when cancer treatment was such a different experience.

I’ve heard more than one nurse say, “Back then, cancer treatment was so awful that it made you wish you were dead.”

Nurses who went through training in the 1960s and 1970s are now in the age group with the highest risk of cancer. If they don’t have a cancer themselves, they almost certainly have family members or friends who are dealing with the disease.

Although these retired health professionals might intellectually know that things are better today, their guts still remember the old days.

What they remember most of all is the terrible nausea that used to accompany chemotherapy. Fortunately, serious nausea is now a rare event. Most people get through chemo without ever throwing up.

The other worrisome memory is that of disfiguring surgery. Through the end of the 1970s, the standard surgery for breast cancer was a radical mastectomy. In addition to removing the breast, this surgery removed the underlying chest muscles, causing disfigurement and loss of arm function. Today, a modified radical mastectomy is performed, leaving the chest muscles intact, and the majority of women are treated not with a mastectomy, but with a less-invasive lumpectomy. Surgery for other types of cancer has similarly evolved.

Another significant change is that patients are encouraged to advocate for themselves. Doctors can recommend treatments, but it’s up to the patient to make the final decisions. Nothing will be done without the patient’s knowledge and approval.

I understand why retired health professionals are often so frightened of cancer. The sights, sounds and smells associated with cancer and its treatment in the 1960s and 70s are hard to shake.

But, thankfully, cancer treatment today is nothing like it was just a few decades ago.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
On Key

Related Posts

LIGHTS – CAMERA – ACTION!!

CRC wants to make you famous! We are looking for anyone who has been diagnosed with any kind of cancer for a portrait project “Why we are here!” There is

Collaboration with Hospicare

Hospicare & Palliative Care Services and the Cancer Resource Center  both share a common goal to be accessible to diverse populations throughout our community. CRC supports people living with and

New Zoom group!

Virtually Together is the name of our newest group. It will meet by Zoom and is open to everyone – cancer patients, survivors, loved ones, all genders, and those affected