You Are Not Alone – Oncology Nurses: Dedication Beyond Cancer Patient Care

When cancer patient lives are in the balance, the oncology nurses are on the front line. They are—in many ways—the backbone of cancer patient continuous care.

The advocacy statement of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS): “We, as an organization and as individuals, advocate on behalf of people with cancer to ensure their quality of life and their access to exemplary care throughout the continuum of life.”


Her name was Beverly. When my husband, Gordon, was going through treatment at UAMS Cancer Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, Beverly was our oncology nurse at the chemo center. No matter how long she had been on her feet, or how many patients she had already seen that day, or how many obstacles she’d had to overcome, Beverly simply wiped all of that away from her mind to turn her focus with a smile on Gordon. From the moment we arrived until it was time for us to leave, he was her focus of attention. Even when the lab results backed up, the previous patient got sick from the chemo, the pharmacy didn’t get drugs out on time, the doctor’s orders changed at the last minute—even through the pandemonium, Beverly never let the stress show on her face or in her attitude. That’s control throughout a sometimes grueling schedule. The UAMS oncology chemo room is open every day—even Christmas Day, and the hours are not posted because it’s “until”—until all patients have what they need. After every patient is cared for, these cancer warriors—including Beverly—can go home to their own life and families.

Then there was the morning that Gordon woke up and couldn’t walk without staggering; the previous day’s chemo treatment had gotten his balance out of whack. Equilibrium is a must-have for a multiple myeloma patient whose bones could break by simply falling against a chair. A quick call to the chemo room, and Beverly had us all set up. A wheelchair was waiting when we arrived, along with the safety of a cancer-controlled environment complete with caring and attentive nurses—led by Beverly, of course! We were rushed straight to a private room where Gordon was ministered to until he was stabilized—literally!

Oncology nurses function as all-around coordinators of patient care, collaborating with other healthcare providers and team members to administer required care as effectively as possible. But it goes much deeper—they also serve as motivator and mentor. Fear is a silent killer for a cancer patient. An oncology nurse has to encourage and mentally build up a patient, even as the treatment they are administering may be bringing him or her down physically to the cellular level. They have to personify an attitude to him or her that cancer is not so tough and instill confidence in the patient that the disease can be controlled.

Is it any wonder that nurses who have devoted their careers to oncology can suffer from high rates of compassion fatigue and burnout? Let’s just take one of the factors involved—their job is to give treatments that ultimately, in many cases, make the patient feel worse than when they stepped into the chemo room, radiation department, or hospital. Now, add the eventual loss of some of their patients who they know by name and ultimately care about—no matter how much they try to avoid the emotional connection. Cancer care providers naturally tend to empathize with patients’ losses, which can result in a personal sense of futility or failure in their care. Compassion fatigue is high among oncology nurses, as they go through repeated exposure to patients suffering the effects of trauma, such as side effects of aggressive treatment and the end-of-life stage of cancer.

In today’s cancer environment, another member of the patient support team is common: patient navigators. These are oncology nurses who are even more involved in day-to-day patient advocacy. Oncology patient navigators help patients to maneuver through system barriers, such as difficulties accessing care from specialists and even filling prescriptions. They facilitate timely access to medical and psychosocial care through all phases of the cancer experience. Patient navigators have already become important to improving cancer patient outcomes, containing costs by reducing duplication of services, and ensuring continuity and quality of care through patient education and support.

Wherever you’re receiving treatment today, take a few moments to let your oncology nurse know that you appreciate the depth of his or her dedication. Just imagine if you arrived at the cancer center and your nurse wasn’t there to help you fight the disease we call cancer.

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Do you want to say “job well done” to an oncology nurse who made a difference in your cancer experience? CURE magazine is calling on cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers to submit essays for the 2012 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing. The contest, made possible by Amgen Oncology and Breakaway from Cancer®, invites patients and their families to submit a 400- to 1,000-word essay describing the compassion, expertise, and helpfulness a special oncology nurse exhibited towards them during their cancer journey. Submissions can be made online at and will be accepted through March 21, 2012. Please take the time to show appreciation for someone who touched your life in this special way.


The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer

(available at and

Based on Joni’s experience and years of research, this inspirational and informative book is designed to give families a fighting chance in their own cancer battle.

Would you like to send something special to someone who’s going through a health-related hardship? Why not send them a Basket of Care ( These baskets are lovingly designed by a cancer survivor and are chock-full of practical items that will lend comfort. Or what about a “Day at the Beach” basket for a child who is ill? A Basket of Care is just the way to say “I care” anytime.

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