The oncology nurse is the one person at the cancer center a cancer patient spends the most time with. As part of a caregiving team, you lean on nurses for emotional support, information about your loved one’s chemotherapy or other treatments and rely on them to connect you with an oncologist whenever necessary.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, an oncology nurse is truly the patient’s care planner, the driver of overall patient care and the person who helps coordinate the health care team. So, it’s not surprising that a loved one’s cancer nurses can also help you coordinate care, both at home and at the cancer center, to keep everyone on the same page.
They Help Explain Treatment
If you feel bombarded and confused by clinical terms and drug names, thus making your loved one’s cancer diagnosis and treatment difficult to understand, nurses will patiently explain terms and also supply written materials to elaborate. Before the first chemo treatment, the nurse can explain how it’s administered so you know exactly what to expect, which includes how it may feel, how long the treatment will take and how you can make the patient more comfortable. If unpleasant side effects arise, the nurse will alert the oncologist, who can immediately alter dosages and prescribe medications to help relieve side effects that same day.
They Help You Manage Your Daily Life
New questions and decisions will emerge daily as cancer treatment takes over your life. If you’re wondering about your loved ones’s food intake, exercise, lifestyle or schedule, nurses can help you make adjustments and they know when to escalate questions to the oncologist. If you need help picking a wig, paying for cancer treatments, learning about makeup and skincare for cancer patients or finding support groups, your nurse is a treasure trove of that information. She might even have a big box of donated wigs, hats, scarves and neck pillows.
If you need direction during the very emotional and confusing time dealing with end-of-life issues, your nurse will be able to supply you with advance directive forms, emotional support and help you coordinate moving toward palliative care and hospice when directed by the oncologist. Nurses also know when an insurance navigator may have additional outside resources to help you.
They Address Your Questions and Concerns
Since the nurses wear so many hats daily, they have the knowledge and experience to address caregiver questions by phone or in person. Wondering if your feelings are normal? Nurses are great listeners and have plenty of encouraging stories about cancer patients and caregivers who went through similar situations as you and how they handled it.
Don’t be afraid to ask your oncology nurse these questions:
- How long does chemo take?
- Are blood levels normal this morning?
- Can you help us find a wig?
- When does “Look Good, Feel Better” visit the center?
- How many treatments are left?
- Can he or she exercise during chemo? If so, how?
- Can you help with the nausea that hits by the weekend after each chemo treatment?
- What should we do about a fever?
- Where can I get advance directive forms?
- Can you help me find a support group?
- Are pain and depression normal during cancer treatment?
- What can we do about that metallic taste or mouth sores?
- Does she have to shave her head?
- Who can help if we have financial concerns?
- How do we move toward hospice care?
They are always at the ready with tissues when you’re crying, courage when you need it and a hug and a high-five when chemo treatment is complete. May is National Oncology Nurse’s month, so let your oncology nurse know how much you value him or her.
Have a favorite cancer nurse or story? Tell us about them in the comments section below!