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Blog: 'I’ll admit to a little anxiety – what if I have more needs than most?'

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Liz Darlison's prize for winning NT’s Cancer Nurse Leader of the Year Award 2007 earned her a place on the Cancer Leadership Programme run by award sponsors the Royal Marsden. Follow Liz’s highs and lows throughout the nine-month programme as she begins her exclusive Sharing Practice blog

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Liz Darlison, a nurse consultant working at the University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) and responsible for the development of the National Macmillan Mesothelioma Resource Centre, Mesothelioma UK.

I had no idea I had been nominated for the Cancer Nurse Leader of the Year award until my nominee, Sally Moore, contacted me to say what she’d done and that I had been shortlisted and would soon be called for an interview. That was August 2007.

Preparing for the interview was like DIY This is Your Life. In a 10-minute presentation I travelled through the highs and lows of my career, focusing particularly on my achievements working with lung cancer and mesothelioma patients.

'The whole awards experience will remain with me always'

The night of the awards, accompanied by the people I am most grateful to, nd who I consider responsible for my being nominated – Sally, Macmillan Cancer Support staff, a patient, my lead clinician, Meso UK’s administrator, chair of the National Lung Cancer Forum for Nurses, the wife of a patient, my mum and my husband – I had no idea I had won and the whole experience of the evening will remain with me always, a definite career high! I will forever feel indebted to Sally.

A place on the National Cancer Leadership Programme is given to the recipient of the Nurse Cancer Leader of the Year Award. I could attend myself or nominate someone else for the course. Having read through the programme information and met previous years’ attendees it was quite clear I would be mad not attend myself.

‘It feels a bit like going on The Apprentice – nursing style!’

And so to this blog. How did this come about? especially as I consider writing, creatively or otherwise, is not my forte. Well, the Nursing Times suggested it would be a great opportunity for nurses to gain insight into attending a leadership course and to be honest, having been asked, I was totally flattered and I could hardly decline!

So in 48 hours time I will meet my fellow course members. I’ll admit to a little anxiety. It feels a bit like going on The Apprentice – nursing style! The other delegates don’t know about this blog but they soon will and I really hope they approve and are happy to be included as the weeks go by.

In her introduction to this section, programme director Sara Lister quoted MacGregor Burns who in 1958 said ‘Leadership is a baffling subject’. I should feel reassured: the National Cancer Leadership Programme begins with the needs of the delegates themselves. But what if we don’t know what our needs are? Or what if I have more needs than most? I only hope they don’t find me baffling! And I hope there isn’t an Alan Sugar to face at the end of each task!

Liz Darlison’s career to date

After a two year bidding and business planning marathon, Mesothelioma UK – where I am nurse consultant – opened its free phone helpline in September 2004. Six months later was launched, a healthcare professional quarterly Meso News Bulletin, annual Patient and Carer conference, quarterly Patient and Carer Newsletter and numerous health care professional educational events have followed.

Meso UK keeps abreast of any developments, medical or otherwise, relevant to mesothelioma and strives to provide impartial information for patients, carers, healthcare professionals, industry, charities and all other related groups. A recent Meso UK development has been the establishment of a national Mesothelioma Nurse Action Team (M-NAT). M-NAT has nurse representatives from every English cancer network, Scotland and Wales and is currently devising a national mesothelioma patient information pathway. Macmillan Cancer Support has supported Mesothelioma UK continually and still provides a majority of the resource centre’s funding.

I have been a nurse for 24 years. I trained at Charles Frears School of Nursing, Leicester gaining my Enrolled Nurse qualification in 1986 and my Registered Nurse qualification in 1989. I have worked in vascular surgery and coronary care but predominantly in respiratory medicine. I gained my first ward sister’s post in respiratory in 1992 and except for an eight-month secondment to a practice development nurse post, I spent the next eight years as a ward sister and manager.

Following the Calman Hine report and infamous cash release by Frank Dobson in the late 1990s, the University Hospitals of Leicester advertised for a Lung Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). I’m quite ashamed to say I didn’t have an overwhelming interest in lung cancer. Rather, I felt I had maximised my ward-based achievements, I was disillusioned with inpatient care management, staff shortages, the continual pressure for beds and cash-saving drives, but I was motivated and impressed by the newly appointed UHL Lung Cancer Lead Clinician so I applied for the new post and was appointed, starting in May 2000.

Stepping into that Lung Cancer CNS post was like stepping onto a tidal wave of target-driven service improvements. UHL was one of the 9 pilot sites of the initial Cancer Services Collaborative improvement initiative. I submerged myself in patients and their carers and worked hard locally and nationally to address the nursing aspects of service improvement. I led the review of lung cancer patient information and successfully put together a bid to fund a new type of post in cancer care – a patient tracker.

Throughout this time, to complement the expertise within the lung cancer medical and surgical team in Leicester, I was becoming increasingly interested in mesothelioma. Nurse specialist Mavis Robinson MBE became a tremendously important ally. Based in Leeds in an area of high mesothelioma incidence Mavis had, with Macmillan Cancer Supports help, set up a mesothelioma information service.

Nationally amongst lung cancer CNSs she was very well known and respected for her clinical skill and expertise with anything relevant to mesothelioma. It was with Mavis’s support and encouragement, after she retired, that I picked up the reins of the previously Leeds-based mesothelioma information service and started Meso UK.

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