Dealing with the sad parts

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    I am new to oncology and have been having trouble dealing with the sad part of nursing. I have never seen people so sick in my and it seems like everyone is just dying. I think about these pts on my days off and have cried almost every morning after I get home because it makes me so sad. I hate it because I have always wanted to work in oncology and for the most part I am still really interested in it (I'm a nursing student doing an externship) but I know I need to learn how to cope with these feelings of sadness for these people if I ever want to be an oncology nurse. I also do not want to become completely numb to everything either. So...how do you deal?
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    Hmmm this is a tough one. I work in peds onc. It seems as though we go through periods of many children dying and it's really rough. I try to focus on the kids that are doing well on my days off. When the really sick ones do die I firmly believe that their suffering has ended. I'm more sad for their families. As time goes on, many nurses become less sad.
    Don't be afraid to cry with the families if your patient passes but it's also not healthy to take your work home with you either (sometimes out of your control)
    I wish you the best, sometimes only time will help the sadness pass
    Sdstuart likes this.
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    Oncology is a specialty with many deaths. I am also a peds onc nurse and I agree with brithoover. Usually when these patients pass, there is relief that their suffering has finally ended.
    SoldierNurse22 likes this.
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    I started in oncology about a year and a half ago (six months as an aide, thirteen as a nurse), and the overwhelming feeling of sadness gets better. I think one just learns to cope with time. Having supportive co-workers that know when to let you cry, when to help, and all in between is a plus.

    Like Kel said, usually when patients die, they've been suffering with pain and discomfort for so long or are just worn out from the struggle. It's a relief that that struggle has ended. Take pride in the fact that you could help ease some of that suffering with your care or provide a listening ear when needed. My unit has unfortunately lost a lot of "regulars" over the course of the last couple of months, and it's hard. But you do get better at coping. Lean on your coworkers because they know what you're going through. Make sure you have hobbies/interests/friends outside of work so that you can try to leave work at work when you're home. It's easier said than done, but is probably healthier emotionally.
    Sugar Magnolia likes this.
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    To OP: I hope things are better for you and that you've learned how to cope with oncology. I just completed my first day of clinical rotations at an in-patient oncology unit, and to be honest, it was overwhelming.. I feel the same way you felt. I was crying during my drive home because seeing very sick elderly patients in pain is simply heartbreaking. Despite my depressed mood, I know that nursing is still the profession for me. I just gotta get over this mindset!
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    I can justify an old person dying, its worse if they are below 60 IMO. That is how I cope with older people dying is "Well they are 80, they had a great life"...

    If they are in their 30s-40s.... I cannot justify and it does make me sad. Maybe there will be an easier way for me to deal with it.

    Taking care of oncology patients is a therapeutic way for me to deal with my loved ones that have been lost... So I will always enjoy it
    Last edit by DatMurse on Oct 6
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    I hope that you can find a way to value all of the experiences that you have with your patients--the good and the bad. I have told many people that there are few things in this world that I do well. Being an oncology nurse is what I am proudest of and I have done it for almost 30 years. Please remember that you are not responsible for their diagnosis. The best way to cope with the challenges of oncology is to be as good at it as you can. You will meet these patients after their diagnosis and their lives, however long or short they may be, will be better because you are good at what you do and you care about each patient.

    It is the nurse that is a patient advocate, a careful clinician, a continuous learner, and a true caregiver that make a difference in the patient success. Keep in mind in oncology success is not always measured by length of life or overall survival. Often it is measured by the quality of life and the impact of the high-touch care that is provided often in a high-tech environment.

    If you really want to learn to emotionally cope with the sadness of the death that occurs, learn as much as you can to be an effective member of the healthcare team and connect with the patient and family when they are at their most frightened and vulnerable. Realize that at that moment you are an honored guest and the gift that you bring is your knowledge, your skill and yourself. You will begin to recognize your own value and will crave the connection with the patients. You will cry with them at their lows and celebrate with their victories. But their death does not define you or your practice.

    I love being an oncology nurse. It is not for everyone, but if it is for you, I wish you the best.
    nyarbroughnc, picadilli83, and KelRN215 like this.
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    Quote from DatMurse
    I can justify an old person dying, its worse if they are below 60 IMO. That is how I cope with older people dying is "Well they are 80, they had a great life" Especially if they are in their 30s-40s.... I cannot justify and it does make me sad. Maybe there will be an easier way for me to deal with it.

    Taking care of oncology patients is a therapeutic way for me to deal with my loved ones that have been lost... So I will always enjoy it
    The opposite side of the coin here is that while younger folks dying is sad because they never had the chance to live a full life, older folks are often missed because they did. The old are known entities and personalities, remembered and lost, whereas the young are opportunities lost.
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    I love that you said that SoldierNurse22!! I have been primarily in adult oncology, but come from the land of St. Jude Hospital although I do not live there anymore. When an adult patient loses their battle with cancer there are many more people impacted directly by that death especially if they lived a fruitful live and touched others. The grief associated with a child's death is felt very intensely by fewer people. The grief process is much different with the 2 populations.

    I still say that the oncology nurse has the opportunity to impact that life--or that death in a positive way despite the age of the patient.
    SoldierNurse22 likes this.
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    I don't know that I necessarily agree that a child's death affects fewer people because the deceased is a child. If that child attends school, EVERYONE in that school is affected. I just left the wake of a 15 yr old. She was in high school, one of the largest high schools in the city. She was involved. She has siblings. Her classmates, her teachers, her siblings' classmates and teachers are all directly impacted by her death. The empty chair that belonged to her will be there and her absence will be felt. I remember the empty chair of a classmate when I was in high school. The deaths of the children I've worked with in all my years as a pedi nurse have, without a doubt, impacted me more than the deaths of the adults in my life, relatives included.

    I do agree that the grief process is completely different. As a parent, you never expect that you will bury your child. As a son or daughter, you realize from a very young age that you will likely outlive your parents. You might not expect cancer or to lose them at a young-ish age but you do understand that at some point in your life you will have to say good-bye to your parents.
    K23RN likes this.


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