Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase) is a National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center research facility and hospital located in Philadelphia, PA. It is part of the Temple University Health System and has a staff of 2400 plus more than 250 volunteers. The world-class center employs top cancer specialists who are dedicated to diagnosing, treating, and managing all types of cancer. Fox Chase is consistently highly rated among cancer centers in the United States.
Fox Chase offers a full range of cancer treatments, including robotic-assisted surgery, targeted immunotherapies, radiation, chemotherapy, pain management, palliative care, and rehabilitation services. Staff members include a nurse navigator for each patient, a dietitian, and a social worker, as well as support groups, all of whom offer compassionate care throughout diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.
The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA (TON) spoke with Elizabeth Capaldi, RN, BSN, OCN, about her experience as an infusion nurse at Fox Chase.
TON: Can you tell us about your role at Fox Chase?
Ms Capaldi: I am a registered nurse in the infusion room, where I administer chemotherapy and immunotherapy to patients with cancer. I also administer other types of infusions, such as drugs for Crohn’s disease or anemia. However, the bulk of my work is devoted to chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
TON: What events led to your decision to become an oncology nurse?
Ms Capaldi: I graduated from Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing at Temple Health in Philadelphia, PA, in 2011 and worked in critical care, which I really enjoyed. However, in 2016, my mother was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast carcinoma and that was a turning point for me. She was treated at Fox Chase, and I was so impressed by her care that I decided to become certified as an oncology nurse.
TON: Can you tell us more about how the experience with your mother helped in your decision to become an oncology nurse?
Ms Capaldi: My mother went for a routine mammogram, and I remember sitting in the waiting room for what seemed to be a very long time. Eventually the nurse came to get me. I was crying (before I went in to see my mother) and a complete stranger, who was a patient, was consoling me. Time stood still. My mother is tough, and she was able to hold it together.
We went to Fox Chase and met my mother’s oncologist, Jennifer S. Winn, MD. We were very encouraged by the support we received from everyone there. We knew we were at the right place and had the right treatment plan.
I accompanied my mother throughout the many weeks of chemotherapy and targeted therapy (she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer), and then she had a double mastectomy. Being with her through this treatment opened my eyes to another kind of nursing care that involved kindness, support, and personal attention, such as remembering people’s birthdays and anniversaries. I decided I wanted to learn how to provide this kind of care and make a difference in people’s lives. What was initially a negative experience turned into a positive one for me. I started working at Fox Chase and eventually I became a certified oncology nurse.
TON: How is your mother doing now?
Ms Capaldi: She is in her second year of remission, and she feels that her cancer diagnosis and treatment changed her life in a positive way. She does not take life for granted anymore and she focuses on the positive. She is very strong.
TON: What do you feel is the biggest challenge related to your job?
Ms Capaldi: One of the biggest challenges is the emotional aspect of the job. You develop a relationship with patients who become like family members and you go through their treatment with them. I am acutely aware that my patients are someone’s wife, husband, mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, or uncle, and it is painful for me, too.
TON: What is your biggest reward as an oncology nurse?
Ms Capaldi: It is so rewarding to see a patient in remission at 1 year, at 5 years, and at 10 years. This is one of the best feelings in the world. Seeing patients living their lives and sharing in the good news that they are cancer-free.
The connection with patients is wonderful. I know firsthand what it feels like to be the daughter of a patient and how important the conversations and interactions with nurses can be. I am so happy that I chose a profession where I can make a difference.
TON: What are you currently excited about in the field of oncology?
Ms Capaldi: Immunotherapy is a very hot area at Fox Chase right now. Patients with melanoma are receiving medications such as nivolumab, and patients with lung cancer are receiving pembrolizumab. We are seeing remarkable and durable responses with immunotherapy alone and in combination with other drugs. We first had to educate ourselves about what to expect with immunotherapy, and now we spend time educating patients so that they are alert for potential side effects. Our staff is working on a patient education video about side effects of immunotherapy, and also, we give patients cards that alert a primary care doctor or emergency room doctor to the potential side effects of immunotherapy (eg, colitis, pneumonitis) so that the patient gets appropriate tests and treatment.
Most of our patients are doing very well on immunotherapy with minimal side effects. I have seen great results.
TON: What would you do if you won the lottery? Would you keep your current job?
Ms Capaldi: The answer is 100 percent yes. There is no amount of money that can compare with seeing patients and their loved ones beat cancer. At Fox Chase, when a patient finishes the last round of treatment, we ring a bell in the lobby. All their treating staff come and when that bell rings, I know why I do what I am doing. Ringing the bell is a very special moment that signifies the end of one chapter in a patient’s life and the beginning of a new start—a healthy life. I love the culture at Fox Chase where everyone is treated like extended family and we are all making a difference.