By Cindy Mauldin, RN, OCN
It is hard for me to believe that I’m considering retiring in the next five years. It seems like only yesterday that I first donned my new graduate nursing cap and started my first job, not really sure where my nursing career would take me, but knowing very strongly I was supposed to be a nurse. Little did I know I would give my professional career — and my heart and soul — to oncology patients. I have had many experiences over the last 42 years, but the greatest have occurred in the last 35 years in oncology.
Courageous in their battles
I have worked in inpatient and outpatient settings caring for people with cancer. For 20 years I worked for a home care agency as an oncology nurse. I have learned that these patients are special and courageous in their everyday battle for their lives. I talk to them about being as healthy as they can today, within the restrictions of their disease and their treatments, and tomorrow we start all over again. I have the utmost respect for them and their struggles, and I have learned so much from them and their loved ones.
The lessons I share with you are those I learned from them. First, listen to patients and their families. If you take the time to really listen, you’ll hear them open up. I once took care of an elderly woman with ovarian cancer who knew she was dying. Her family wanted her home, but she insisted that she wanted to die in the hospital and no one could convince her otherwise. She made the oncologist promise that when it was her time he would admit her to the hospital. Finally she explained to me why. For all the years she had lived on her block she was very involved with the neighborhood children and she could not stand the thought of them walking by her house knowing she had died there.
Another patient who had a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer did not want to stay in her apartment with hospice, but wanted to go to a resident hospice in another state, so she could be closer to her son. When she finally confided in me, she said it was too painful to think about staying in her own home and seeing all the things she could not do anymore.
Don’t rush your patients through their care. Sit. Be quiet. Observe. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Pray with them. Absorb all that you can from them, and I promise, if you do, your life and your nursing career will be all the better for it, and it will never be the same.
I have never regretted entering oncology 35 years ago, and I ended up falling in love with the patients who are part of it. It truly has been a privilege to hold their hands as they have walked the cancer journey. If you choose the specialty, don’t be afraid of the disease or the people who are on that journey. They have so much to give you if you are willing to open your hearts to them. I will miss them sorely when I retire, but I realize they will be in good hands with the next generation of nurses.
Be quiet. Listen. Really care.
Cindy Mauldin, RN, OCN, is a palliative care nurse with Main Line Health Home Care and Hospice in Philadelphia.
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