Katy describes her role as an Oncology Nurse, outlining the responsibilities, challenges and emotional toll of the specialism.
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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death and accounted for nearly 10 million deaths globally in 2020.
Cancer is a term that defines a group of diseases that affect various organs.
The most common cancers are lung, breast, and colon.
An Oncology Nurse is responsible for supporting and caring for a patient throughout their cancer journey.
Although relatively specialised, the role can be broad - working in the NHS, charity sector, or privately, community based or in a hospital.
Sometimes the role of an Oncology Nurse can cover all of these areas.
My position as an Oncology Nurse is in the charity sector.
I currently work for a charity based in Spain.
My Role As A Community Oncology Nurse
I work within a small team of community nurses, translators, and carers.
We predominantly work in the community, assessing patients and providing support throughout their treatment.
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is a frightening experience, but one that is intensified by living in a foreign country.
A lot of British people living in Spain don’t have a fluent knowledge of the language, so understanding medical consultations and treatment plans can be extremely difficult.
We work alongside the hospital's oncology department whilst working with the patient and their family, whether this be family in Spain or quite often in the UK.
Like most Oncology Nurses my role has many aspects; We offer support and reassurance, that they are receiving the correct treatment, whether or not the side effects they are experiencing are normal and most importantly that they are cared for and listened to.
We are also advocates for the patients, helping them to decide what treatment - if any - is right for them.
We often work with patients at the end of their life, usually caring for them and supporting them to die at home in peace as they wish.
We accompany them to all appointments ensuring that they understand what they are being told and acting as their advocate throughout.
Oncology Nurses in hospitals will also administer chemotherapy and IV medication as well as caring for patients who present to the hospital with acute oncological emergencies.
This is an area of oncology nursing I have never had experience in but understand it to be a specialised role requiring extra training and study.
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Why Is It important?
Receiving a Cancer diagnosis must be one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person.
It is without a doubt on my list of things I am most fearful of.
I believe this is probably true for everyone.
The journey the patient embarks on is a minefield of treatment protocols, blood results, cancer progression or regression and a lot of hospital appointments.
Oncology Nurses in various forms support patients from the point of diagnosis all the way through to hopefully cure - or sadly sometimes end of life.
An Oncology Nurse is quite often the first port of call for emotional and physical support.
Whilst the patient is having treatment of any kind it is vital that the patient is monitored throughout the entire process, as well as ensuring the patient feels supported and listened to.
Cancer is an emotional rollercoaster that impacts every aspect of life including identity, work and relationships, quite often the Oncology Nurse is the only person the patient feels able to discuss personal aspects of their treatment and recovery with.
It is often an Oncology Nurse's job to educate the patient on their diagnosis, advising how to manage and control symptoms whilst being on hand to help the patient continue with healthy lifestyle choices.
An Oncology Nurse is constantly monitoring their patient, the mental health of the patient as well as any physical deterioration.
Side effects from treatment are often normal, but can be serious and sometimes fatal.
It is the job of the Oncology Nurse to ensure that the patient receives appropriate care in a timely manner.
What Problems Do I Encounter The Most Often?
Cancer is a big word, a big diagnosis, it is a heavy thing for someone to hear and is full of ups and downs.
As an Oncology Nurse you are on every step of that journey with the patient and it can become exhausting, as you have multiple patients - all on their individual journey, responding to the treatment but also to you in different ways, mentally and physically.
The problems I encounter here in Spain are very specific to living in a foreign country but there are most likely parallels to be drawn between typical challenges in the UK.
Here in Spain foreigners tend to access healthcare as a private patient, especially as retirees, but will eventually end up being referred back into the national health.This overlap of private and public health, different doctors and no ‘joined up’ service - leads to a confusing experience lacking continuity and needing unpicking from our team.
As a Nurse this can be frustrating, especially in the midst of a global pandemic - we had and have many patients that were struggling to access the correct care and follow ups at the correct times.
Quite often, by the time a patient is referred to us, or has found us, they have been managing by themselves for some time.
This is quite challenging.
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What Are The Main Duties Of An Oncology Nurse?
For me, in a predominantly community based role, a large proportion of my time is spent listening and monitoring.
A lot of the role is similar to that of a counsellor and most definitely the area of my job I struggle with the most.
As a Nurse I am naturally a ' fixer’ and it has taken me a long time to master the art of listening without having solutions on hand to be able to offer quick fixes.
Whether on a ward or in the community, the main duties of an Oncology Nurse are the same; to support the patient throughout their care, to monitor them, to develop and implement treatment plans, administer medication, to advocate for the patient and educate patients and families on the diagnosis and treatments, as well as helping families navigate financial support.
Who Do Oncology Nurses Work With?
Oncology Nurses work as part of a multidisciplinary team.
This team consists of consultants, nursing teams, specialist nurses, radiologists, physiotherapists and pharmacists.
It is vital that communication is clear and consistent and that the multidisciplinary team work together in order to provide joined up care.
Where else can Oncology Nurses work?
Typical NHS jobs?
There are many areas in which an Oncology Nurse can work. NHS oncology departments will have general ward nurses, research nurses, chemotherapy nurses, haematology nurses, clinical nurse specialists.
A Day In The Life
My day typically starts by meeting with my team, we discuss our patients and plan our visits.
My morning is then full of patient visits, some of these visits are just to check in, to say hello and ensure that the patient is doing well and feels supported - whilst some of my visits are to palliative patients, and everything in between.
I will then try and action various things that have come up from each visit, liaising with our translator, carers and hospital liaison.
I will then spend the afternoon returning phone calls, messages and emails.
For me, being an Oncology Nurse is one of the most fulfilling and challenging roles I have done.
At times it feels relentless and draining, but at all times it is humbling and rewarding.
Every day i discover and learn new things, every day I am discovering how to be a better support to patients who have had their life interrupted and cut short by cancer. You can also read about the Community nursing career path.