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I am a nurse, get me outta here!

  • 8 Comments

Sharon Rose-White feels her work as a health visitor has benefited from her time as a breast cancer patient

I am Sharon Rose-White. I’m a RGN, RM, RHV and nurse prescriber and I have a diploma in professional nursing studies community health studies.

In January 2006 I walked through the doors of the oncology ward at my local hospital. I was nervous and wished I could travel back in time to a month ago when I had been working as a health visitor service manager. But still, I walked onto the ward in anticipation. What was I going to learn? Would I be able to improve my nursing skills? But not as a nurse this time, as a patient.

Tuesday treatment day for women with breast cancer was full of ladies of varying ages and at different stages of treatment. Some sat quietly talking to their relatives and at first it was difficult to distinguish who was who. But looking closer I realised some could be wearing wigs. Others had a head of stubbly growth.

Walking into the ward itself I saw different faces. Faces with fragile skin, little colour, no eyebrows and no eyelashes.

A nurse has knowledge at the ready to implement for every individual, unique patient. Knowledge based on research and best practice. I respect and still promote the importance of nursing education and training to the highest standard, but I feel the ability to genuinely care is even more important.

I know now that the eyes hold the key to how your patient feels. You can see how they are dealing with physical or emotional pain, or fear. It’s really important to maintain eye contact and not avert your gaze. The experience can be daunting but patients need reassurance and you’re best placed to give it.

At the hospital I sat down with the oncology staff nurse. It suprised me to see my own emtions mirrored in her face. In her eyes I saw fear and sadness. She touched my arm and asked “How are you today?” While she administered my chemotherapy she listened and held my gaze. In her presence I began to relax and talk about how scared I felt, how I didn’t want to leave my children and how I worried about my limited parenting ability. The experience made me think of my role as a health visitor and how I support families and school nurse colleagues support children living through traumatic family times.

For the duration of my treatment my nurse gave me her undivided time and attention. I walked out of the ward not tired and defeated but happy and reassured. All thanks to the nurse who put the effort in to make emotional contact.

Today, my chemotherapy has finished and 15 doses of radiotherapy later the end result is I’m exhausted but elated that I’m alive. I still have the memories of the nurse who cared for me, she made a true difference.

Sharon Rose-White is the author of “Single Salsa Survivor” and “Living in Grief Loving in Grief”. These are available to order and pre order from all leading book stores, online or direct from a publisher. Twenty percent of the royalties from book sales of “Single Salsa Survivor” are to be  donated to Cancer Research UK.

  • 8 Comments

Readers' comments (8)

  • I am a third year student nurse and am hoping to specialise in palliative care. This has opened my eyes and made me think about how the patient feels. We are all to keen on "making them better" but sometimes miss the emotional side. I always look a patient in the eye and hope that I never ever forget the patient is a person not a condition.
    Thank you for sharing this with us

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  • sharon rose

    Rebbecca thank you for the positive feedback about the above article. I hope to reach the student nurse audience and stimulate reflection and insight in to the care of the cancer patient from a holistic point of view.
    Thank you

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  • Your article is certainly very touchy. I have been practicising for years as a nurse and I knew at the very start of my career that palliative care was not for me. You have made me realise that no matter what background you are in, the principles are the same. Building this rapport with a patient is very important, sit down and listen and giving eye contact. In short making the patient at ease and the rest will fit into place. At present I am mentoring students on a regular basis, and this is something I will certainly pass on. Who knows one of those students may be our treating nurse one day!

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  • sharon rose

    Thank you i am pleased that you feel the article will support your students and yes i hope they keep this very simple but important nursing skill in mind whenever they are in contact with their patient and whatever the illness.
    Thank you again the feedback
    sharon rose

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  • Nice article Sharon. I hope that you remain well. I had breast cancer in 2003 and, more than the unpleasant treatments endured during that time, my lasting memories are of the ways in which I was treated. The vast majority of Nursing, Medical and Allied Health Care staff were nothing less than excellent. I benefitted from their compassion, reassurance and ability to care in often very trying circumstances. I will be eternally grateful to them all and hope that my experience as a patient has positively influenced my work as a nurse. It seems to me that, of late, we are hearing a little too often, tales of poor standards of nursing care and even neglect in some areas. I never experienced that as a patient. However, one negative (and I suspect more common) experience did stay with me. On arrival at theatre for surgery, I was greeted by a staff nurse, who was of a similar age to myself and treated me with great efficiency, giving me no reason to doubt her competence or clinical expertise. Her great sin? She barely looked in my direction whilst carrying out the theatre check list and relevant explanations. Throughout the short time she dealt with me, the staff nurse called me "Doll" and didn't refer to my name beyond getting me to confirm it for purposes of correct identification. Her manner was pleasant and yet she managed to make me feel almost invisible. I'm sure that she was a kind-hearted and hard-working individual, who may have been mortified if she had learned the effect of her manner. As one who has always been a robust character, I was somewhat taken aback at my own feelings about my experience with this nurse. Certainly, I have never thought of myself as the perfect nurse....far from it! Was I being over-sensitive? The answer is, probably not. I was a vulnerable patient with a cancer diagnosis at the start of a long and difficult journey back to health and I met with this staff nurse on one of the worst days of my life. However, I have her to thank for ensuring that I am always very aware of the manner in which I support my patients, their families and friends in the course of my daily work.

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  • sharon rose

    margaret i hope you keep well too and again thank you for commenting as a patient and from a nurse perspective. Again it highlights that on what is a normal working day for us as nurses. for our patients it could be the most traumatic day of their lives of which they have vivid memories. For you i wish you could have had the memory of the nurse that never averted their gaze until you were fast asleep and that simple genuine act of nursing care would have been your memory. I hope nurses who read your comment will take your comment on board and learn from your own experience
    thank you

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  • Hi again Sharon. Thanks for your good wishes. I am disgustingly healthy and glad to be alive. I felt that I had to post a little addition to my previous contribution. I hope that in relating my story of one negative incident during treatment, I didn't give the impression that this was my whole experience. On the contrary, my treatment was exemplary and I certainly wouldn't be here today without the fantastic bunch of caring professionals who looked after me. I have many stories to tell of these wonderful individuals. It is just that, sometimes, the best lessons are learned from the not so good stuff. I learned much from this incident and it made me reflect on my own practice. As you succinctly put it, "Again it highlights that on what is a normal working day for us as nurses. for our patients it could be the most traumatic day of their lives of which they have vivid memories."

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  • sharon rose

    Yes i cannot fault my own treatment and i do have great respect for the hidden heroes our cancer research scientists who are there trying to find a cure for cancer. good luck margaret for the future and good health too
    sharon

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