Published Feb 12, 2014
I am a newish grad, starting my very first job on the oncology floor at the local hospital. I am scared, really! Scared because it's my first job, scared because of where it is, just scared! I am not sure what to expect. I know death is a part of this life, but I have never been with anyone who has died. I have only seen one dead body in my life. Have never cared for a dead body. Any insight you all have will be much appreciated!
I just joined so I could reply to your post. I've been in oncology for 20 years now and it was my first job when I got out of school. However, I had worked as a CNA for 5 years at a VA on the oncology floor & already knew it was the only place for me. I have worked for my husband for the last 15 years in a solo oncology practice in his small home town. I know that not everyone's experience will be like mine. You will see people die, that's a part of it. I even worked as a hospice nurse for awhile to learn what happened to the patients we discharged from the hospital with hospice care. THAT was a tough job! Caring for the dying is an honor as I see it. It is a moment that the family (who are hopefully there at the bedside) will never forget. I always saw my role (when I worked on a hospital oncology floor) to be a calming voice, keeping the family informed about what they where seeing, that it was normal and expected, etc. Any time a person dies with their family at their side is a true blessing for the patient and the family. I would remind them of that in a subtle way. With time, you will learn to see the beauty in a peaceful death, the end of great suffering. By the time someone dies from cancer they have usually fought a long, hard, and sometimes painful battle. Quite often the patient and their family are ready to see their suffering end. The most important thing-often the only thing-that matters to any of them is they are not suffering and they have a peaceful death. It is largely in your hands to make that happen. Sometimes we have no control but very often we do. And believe me when i tell you, that family will never forget the nurse who showed compassion & went the extra mile to keep the person they loved from suffering. Very often, the person who needs the most care from you is not the patient, but the spouse or child. I have boxes of cards from family members thanking me, telling me how they love me and how I will always have a special place in their hearts for a kindness I showed them or their loved one during their battle with cancer. I have saved every one over the last 20 years. When things are hard or sad at work, I only have to look at a few cards to be reminded of how blessed I am to have the love and trust of so many peoples. How I can make a difference in the lives of people who feel helpless and scared and look to me for answers, understanding, and support. Don't worry too much about patients dying. Not everyone does thank goodness. Sometimes we win great victories and sometimes we win small battles, but we celebrate them all. People often tell me that it takes a special person to work in oncology. I don't know if that's true or not. I know people will get cancer and some will die from their disease. That will happen no matter if they are our patient or another doctors. My greatest hope is that by them being our patient they will get treated and taken care of in a way that they wouldn't somewhere else. And by that, we are making their battle with cancer less emotionally painful, less stressful, and they will have less fear than they otherwise would have had. That is the difference I make every day. It matters.
Now, on a different aspect of oncology nursing...once you become a specialized nurse, an oncology nurse, you become much more in demand. You will be able to find a job anywhere in the world. Oncology docs are looking for nurses with experience in oncology. Working in an office is great compared to hospital nursing. Monday through Friday, no holidays, no big hospital administration to deal with. And you form long, lasting relationships with patients and families. You become an important part of their lives. And the money is great. You will get paid for your experience. And if you get your oncology certification, you;ll be in high demand. I wish you all the luck in the world. I hope you grow to love it as much as I do.
SunshineDaisy, ASN, RN
Wow, thank you so much! You actually made me teary eyed with your response! I really hope I can get to the same place you are!
What wonderful words. I am was also an Oncology and BMTU nurse for many years ( just getting back into to it after some time away) I had witnessed many patients dying. My favorite patient ever, an 18 year old with leukemia, was back in the hospital for the millionth time. I had just started my first and (only day) of orientation at a new job, at different hospital. He passed away, his mother was with him. They had not been at the hospital for a while and so did not know any of the nurses on shift that day. The father was in route to hospital and could not be reached, so he had no idea his son ad passed. The mother was grief stricken. The charge nurse tracked me down at my new job to let me know he had passed and at there as no one there that she knew. I explained the phone call to my preceptor. I fully expected to continue with my training, but she called the nurse manager. They told me to go and be with that mother, so I might be able to provide some measure of comfort to her. ( God bless those two nurses!) I got to the hospital right before the father did. I will never forget the anguish on his face because he did not get to say goodbye. The had everyone leave room so they could have some time with their son. They asked me to stay. I was stunned. They proceeded to tell me how they loved me and how important I had been to their son, how much my care for him over the years had meant to them. They lived hours away and had other children, and sometimes they could not stay with him. They then started to say their goodbyes to their son, holding him, crying over him, talking softly to him. When they started to bathe him and put fresh clothes on him. they included me. I cannot explain the "sacredness" of that experience. To this day, I am humbled that I was included in such a painful, intimate, peaceful family moment, As an oncology nurse, you have the chance to extend yourself beyond your fears, establish relationship, make a difference in the lives of your patients and their families. That was twenty two years ago, the mother still writes to me every year. She is not the only one. Do your job well, love and care for you patients and you may have a profound effect in ways that you may never know.
I finished up my first week on Tues and already feel like I have made a difference! One of my patients, her daughter works with my hubby! I, of course, didn't tell him that, but she told him the next day that she met me and said that I was so kind and just what she needed. That made me feel SO good! We also have some med surge over flow patients, so it's really good experience for both sets of patients. I did experience my first death. It wasn't my patient, but I was the only other RN there to confirm the death and the other RN had me do the IV and foley removal. Wasn't as horrible as I would have imagined, it just looked like she was sleeping. The family got to me though and I had to excuse myself before I started crying for them. It was weird though, not hearing any breath sounds or a heartbeat when you are used to it. I know I have many more to come, but am thankful my first death experience was like this, if that makes sense?
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