We talk to Rajvinder (Raj) Mashiana, an oncology nurse who thrives on a challenge, whether it be building a ground-breaking new cancer wing or working in for a non-profit organisation in Ethiopia.
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According to Raj Mashiana, facing open water is the bravest thing she has ever done. “I was in Turkey in May and I went paragliding over the ocean. I’m someone who can’t swim and being over the water, or on a jet ski, well, I totally went out of my head,” she says.
For Ms Mashiana, taking on challenges and pushing personal boundaries is not simply a pastime for holidays in Turkey, it is a year-round affair.
Ms Mashiana’s schedule is evidence of her thirst for new skills and experiences. Spending her summers in Ethiopia and her winters in the UK, Ms Mashiana is constantly developing herself.
“I will push myself,” she explains. “I will go out of my way to accomplish something that I’ve never done before.”
“We are all working with people going through really different stages of diagnosis, sometimes the ups and downs of that can be hard”
Presently, Ms Mashiana is managing her own department, the cancer ward at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Starting at St Thomas’ directly after her graduation, Ms Mashiana’s rise within the trust has been rapid and impressive, and she cites it as one of her greatest accomplishments.
“I’ve achieved a lot in the small time I have had. I got my first management job within the first three years of being certified,” she says. “It’s just the case that when I feel like I’ve fulfilled everything in my role I will go onto the next challenge.”
Although she has been hastily climbing the career ladder within her trust, Ms Mashiana makes sure to take time for her teammates, all of whom she values greatly. “It can be difficult working in the cancer ward. We are all working with people going through really different stages of diagnosis, sometimes the ups and downs of that can be hard,” she says. “I try to help and support my team through it.”
“Seeing it in the media made me realise how huge that was”
The completion of St Thomas’ new cancer centre in late September 2016 is another of Ms Mashiana’s proudest achievements, although she admits to not fully realising the immensity of the project until its completion.
“We are the first centre in Europe to have radiotherapy units above ground,” she notes. “To be part of that state of the art cancer centre was amazing. Seeing it in the media made me realise how huge that was.”
In her time off Ms Mashiana volunteers with Project Harar, a charity stationed in Ethiopia which offers medical support to people with facial deformities, mainly cleft lips. Ms Mashiana speaks very highly of the three summers she has spent so far with Project Harar, “I have to say it is the best thing I’ve done. I love working there,” she says. “You become family with the patients. You get to change their lives. It’s wonderful to help them.”
Ms Mashiana reflects on one patient who became especially like family, a three-year old boy named Khalid, with whom she worked two summers ago. Alongside her team, Ms Mashiana helped remove a large mass from Khalid’s neck.
“We know we do good things, but sometimes you don’t realise it until you get to see the difference you have made”
Ms Mashiana built a special bond with Kahlid and his family. “I spent a lot of time with him and his siblings, playing with them or reading to them. Or just talking to his mum,” she says. Last summer, Ms Mashiana was able to see Khalid again, fully healed. After a slight moment of hesitation, the reunion was warm and tearful.
“We know we do good things, but sometimes you don’t realise it until you get to see the difference you have made,” Ms Mashiana says.
Project Harar has also reshaped the way she looks at life back in the UK, completely shifting her perspective. “It has definitely made me realise what is needed and what is not. We have so much here. You don’t need to worry about your image,” she explains. “It’s not about the materialistic things, it is about connection.”
When asked to consider guidance she would like to give new nurses, Ms Mashiana offers the advice with which she guides her own life: “Try everything. Try everything that comes your way,” she stresses. “I would say to take on every new opportunity.”
Indeed, it is with these principles that Ms Mashiana has marched unflinchingly into the unknown. Maybe we should follow her.