Oncology nurses’ unique role
Do you ever notice that some of your patients come to you first when they have questions about a complementary therapy or self-care practice? Maybe they’re thinking about trying something, or they’re already doing something that they’ve been “afraid” to tell their oncologist. They go to you first for lots of reasons. You’re the one spending time teaching them about treatment, assessing them on each treatment visit, and supporting them throughout. They see you as knowledgeable and competent. And they sense that you’re doing more than giving care—you’re caring for them in a deeper way, a way we nurses call holistic. When patients say “I love my oncology nurse” (which they often do), they mean it.
Because of your expert care and your sincere caring, your patients trust you. Patients often rate nurses as the most trustworthy, honest, approachable people on the medical team.1Saad L. Military brass, judges among professions at new image lows. Gallup. January 12, 2022. Viewed October 24, 2023.
- They count on you to listen without judging or cutting them off.
- They trust you to be honest if you don’t know the answer.
- They count on you to help them find trustworthy information so they can make informed choices in whole person cancer care.
Your other team members also trust you when you advocate for a patient who comes to you not only for treatment, but also to be treated as a whole person.
“As navigation evolves, all individuals working in [nurse] navigator roles will need to be well-versed in helping patients to identify and access integrative therapy resources throughout their cancer experience.”
Cindi Cantril, MPH, RN, OCN, CBCN, and Pamela Haylock, PhD, RN, FAAN
from Patient navigation in the oncology care setting
In the service of healing
Healing and its importance to your patients
“Illness is the human experience of disease. Healing is the human experience of recovery of wholeness.”
Michael Lerner, CancerChoices Co-Founder
Curing means taking a disease or a problem away completely. Healing, by contrast, is movement toward wholeness. Curing is what we all hope for and work towards. We all know too well that a cure is not always possible. But healing is.
CancerChoices recognizes that all people have the innate ability to heal. Healing can take place at any point in our lives. It can manifest physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually. CancerChoices believes that an integrative, whole-person approach to care increases the chances that a person will find their way to healing.
What needs to be healed and how healing happens is unique to each person. After years of working with hundreds of people at Commonweal’s week-long residential retreats ›, we’ve seen most participants discover that it’s not the cancer that most needs healing. Healing a relationship or a past trauma, or getting out of a toxic job, may be what’s most needed. Or maybe it’s bringing the inner environment back into balance through self-care. Maybe it is coming to peace with death and dying.
Healing is often not something done to us by others but occurs from within. Some would say healing is a movement toward our authentic and whole selves. Healing can happen both in living and in dying. Sometimes great healings take place close to the time of death.
Supporting your patients’ (and your own) healing
Looking at your approach to care is a good place to start. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help program and author of My Grandfather’s Blessings, experienced this herself. Her medical education emphasized fixing people, which assumes that she sees her patients as broken. So she thought perhaps what she is doing is helping her patients. That sounded better, but helping assumes that she sees herself as strong and her patients as weak. In living with chronic and sometimes life-threatening Crohn’s disease, she realized that she, too, is a wounded person—a wounded healer. If she were to view herself on the same level as her patient, as a fellow wounded person, then she would be serving them in recovering wholeness. Rather than fixing or helping, she proposes serving patients in their healing. “Service is a relationship between equals.”2Remen RN. In the Service of Life.
“Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, the work itself will sustain us . . . Lastly, fixing and helping is the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness, I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental way. Only service heals.”3Remen RN. In the Service of Life.
See Dr. Remen’s entire essay, In the Service of Life ›
At your own pace, you may want to examine why and how you care. Ask yourself what would support you in caring in a way that will sustain you in meaningful, fulfilling work. Listen for the answer and look for the guidance to appear. That guidance may nudge you to explore what needs healing in your own life. The very self-care practices that you teach to your patients are not just for them. They’re for all of us who want to stay connected to our well-being. We’ll explore how you care for yourself in Nurses taking care of themselves ›
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|1||Saad L. Military brass, judges among professions at new image lows. Gallup. January 12, 2022. Viewed October 24, 2023.|
|2, 3||Remen RN. In the Service of Life.|