Too close to the situation for comfort?

  1. 1
    I'm a nursing student and seriously considering Oncology nursing when I graduate. This is primarily due to my own history as an oncology patient. I am a six-year survivor of a very rare type of young-adult cancer and I was extremely impressed by the rock-star nurses that cared for me. So much so, that I want to become one of them! However, I've encountered someone who thinks this is a bad idea. A good friend told me that my own experiences could cloud my judgement and hinder my ability to act neutrally and professionally on the job. Could this be true? Are there any of you out there working in oncology who are/were cancer patients yourselves? If so, how has it affected/not affected your work?

    -Jen
    SoldierNurse22 likes this.
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  3. 17 Comments so far...

  4. 8
    Could not disagree more. I work in postpartum, but I have had a baby (aka been a postpartum patient) so would that be detrimental? No way! Do what you love. My experience is so helpful. People have their opinions. I can't imagine why someone would discourage you from going into oncology.
  5. 1
    If you feel it is your passion, then go for it. I worked with a nurse who had survived breast cancer. There was no one on that ward who understood more what our patients were going through.

    Some people don't want to do onc BECAUSE of their onc history. But again, that's a very personal decision. What's good for one person isn't necessarily good for another. But you sound quite certain and passionate. Just remember what it was like while you were a patient, keep your professionalism about you, and you won't go wrong.

    People make decisions all the time in medicine that will drive you bonkers. Just avoiding oncology doesn't mean you won't develop a personal tie to those patients and that it won't be difficult when someone decides against something that is strongly recommended for their health, so the naysayer there is wrong in the first place!
    Marshall1 likes this.
  6. 2
    It's your choice - listen to what YOUR heart and mind tell you - not someone else. You actually are in a better position than most in this type of nursing because of what you have gone through - it gives you a "testimony" so to speak. Go for it - you will be glad you did and so will the future patients you care for.
    barbyann and SoldierNurse22 like this.
  7. 1
    Listen to you inner voice. And if for personal reasons the 'fit' really isn't right, you'll have many alternative pathways to travel as that's one of the great things about nursing. Good luck.
    SoldierNurse22 likes this.
  8. 6
    Although I don't believe it's necessary to have experienced an illness to be an effective nurse in a given setting, I do think it can be a plus. The important thing to remember is that you have to keep your own experiences separate from those of your patient. It's OK to empathize, and to share your firsthand knowledge under the right circumstances, but you do have to be careful not to reveal too much or to make the discussion about you instead of your patient.

    If you feel you can strike the proper balance, by all means go for it!
    RNperdiem, NurseDirtyBird, nursel56, and 3 others like this.
  9. 5
    I had a brain tumor and spent the first five years of my career in neurology/neurosurgery/neuro-onc. It can be a blessing and a curse. Like, when I had possible MRI changes and spent a year seeing specialist after specialist and having scan after scan and test after test, it felt a little much because there was nowhere to go to escape it... it was my life at work and my life at home. Also very difficult when you see a patient with your same diagnosis have a poor outcome, survivor's guilt is a very real thing.
    Altra, VivaLasViejas, nursel56, and 2 others like this.
  10. 2
    Quote from JTinKY
    I'm a nursing student and seriously considering Oncology nursing when I graduate. This is primarily due to my own history as an oncology patient. I am a six-year survivor of a very rare type of young-adult cancer and I was extremely impressed by the rock-star nurses that cared for me. So much so, that I want to become one of them! However, I've encountered someone who thinks this is a bad idea. A good friend told me that my own experiences could cloud my judgement and hinder my ability to act neutrally and professionally on the job. Could this be true? Are there any of you out there working in oncology who are/were cancer patients yourselves? If so, how has it affected/not affected your work?

    -Jen
    I think you will be better than you think. Patients need someone that knows how they are feeling and with your experience will be able to empathize . You don't have to tell every pt. what has been your experience but the care you give I think will be holistic and from the heart. I believe all Nurses give a little bit of their selves(not literally) each day. And we have those days that humble us and we learn , days that anger us and we learn, days that are joyous and we learn. We learn how to cope and balance our lives as much as possible . Try it , if you don't like try something else. Justdawn
    VivaLasViejas and SoldierNurse22 like this.
  11. 2
    I worked hem/onc for a while(a still do when I am needed like if someone takes a vacation for example) and while I wasn't an oncology patient myself, my father was(he died of pancreatic cancer), my grandfather was(he died of esophageal cancer), my 5 year old cousin was(he died of neuroblastoma) and my uncle was(he died of glioblastoma multiform). I personally found working there all the time emotional(but then again all of my loved ones died, YOU are a survivor..good for you by the way)! So that's a major difference. I now work in neurology/neurosurgery and I am a neurosurgery patient myself and I think it's a very good thing! I am able to empathize with a patient, understand what they are going through in terms of pain and recovery and when I tell my patients I had surgery it gives us a common ground and helps them realize that what they are going through will indeed pass. Everyone is different and everyone's emotional thresholds are different...and different experiences can alter that threshold. My sister was a psych patient and now works with psych patients(as a social worker) and she absolutely LOVES it. Part of being a psych patient made her want to work with psych patients in the first place.

    I think you should go for it. If you find it too emotionally draining then you can always transfer out.
    VivaLasViejas and SoldierNurse22 like this.
  12. 2
    Make sure you are working in a good Oncology Unit. I worked in a Unit that was never full, so we ended up being Oncology/Med/Surg...and the catch all. I'd have a cancer patient or two, a homeless guy going through alcohol detox, a frequent flying drug-seeker with "abd pain" that took up all of my time, MRSA infected patients....it was horrible. The drug addicts and suicide attempts usually took all of our time and the cancer patients didn't get as much tlc as they should have. Left over-long shifts, without getting a break, and still felt guilty for not having time for them.
    twinmommy+2 and SoldierNurse22 like this.


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