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.