Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster, OH, is a comprehensive cancer care program where medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, oncology nurses, and other team members work together to provide an individualized treatment plan for every patient. In addition to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, a range of other treatments and ancillary services are offered to patients with cancer, including music therapy, pet therapy, nutritional counseling, yoga, and relaxation.
At Fairfield Medical Center, dedicated oncology nurse navigators provide coordination of all aspects of cancer care to help patients and their families deal with their journey.
The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA talked to Sandra Black, RN, OCN, CLNC, an oncology certified nurse who delivers chemotherapy and ambulatory infusions to patients treated at the center. Ms Black was recently featured in a video presentation at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 41st Annual Congress in San Antonio, TX. The video, Heroic Hearts: To Be an Oncology Nurse, The Movie, focuses on the extraordinary role of the oncology nurse in caring for patients living with cancer.
What does your current job at Fairfield Medical Center entail?
Sandra Black (SB): I am a chemotherapy staff nurse delivering chemotherapy and ambulatory infusion therapy to cancer patients treated at our center. We are a community-based cancer center and provide both inpatient and outpatient treatment. I work with a wonderful multidisciplinary team to provide our full range of services.
My position involves reviewing each patient's medical history, cancer regimen, treatment cycle, and tolerance of the current therapy. Ensuring that the patient and family are educated about the treatment safety measures, and potential side effects, is very important. My assessment also includes reviewing lab values, taking vital signs, and monitoring pain control prior to providing ongoing therapy.
What was it like to participate in the video at ONS?
SB: The video was called Heroic Hearts and was produced by Tesaro, an oncology-focused biopharmaceutical company. The video featured 3 oncology nurses and highlighted their daily tasks and challenges in caring for patients during one of the most difficult times of their lives. I was selected as one of the participants in the video to share my oncology journey, because I am directly involved with managing patients' fears and concerns regarding cancer treatment.
What are some of the challenges in your job?
SB: My philosophy is to turn challenges into opportunities. One of the biggest challenges is staying competent and current with all the changes in cancer therapies so that I can continue to provide the best care possible to my patients. Fortunately, ever-evolving changes in care are contributing to improved outcomes, making many cancers a chronic disease. As an oncology nurse, I have to be competent, be aware of possible side effects, and address adverse reactions to therapy.
Availability of time to help patients can also be a bit of a challenge, but my team members quickly assist as needed. Patients can be overwhelmed by all the information they receive. We try to help them with their special needs through the cancer journey.
What are some of the rewards of your job?
SB: My cancer journey has allowed me to share in the lives of so many patients and families that have endured cancer. Each time I see one of my survivors, we share a hug in happiness of where we have been. And when those hugs are shared with family members who no longer have their loved one, I am reminded that it is a gift to be part of their journey as well.
I love what I do because I feel I can help people and make a difference. I challenge myself to have the knowledge and expertise to reassure people with cancer. There are many opportunities with oncology nursing. I have worked with hospice, been the nurse at a camp for children with cancer, served on the board of the American Cancer Society, and am a chemotherapy educator of ONS, to name a few of these opportunities.
I also enjoy promoting cancer prevention and detection, and speaking with patients and family members about preventive measures and screening, and self-care.
What inspired you to become an oncology nurse?
SB: [While] living in a rural community, 2 family members developed cancer in 1980. Access to cancer services was limited, diagnosis came too late, and treatment was very debilitating. I decided that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients, and with the encouragement of my family members I took a new career direction. I had planned to go to dental hygiene school but I was pulled toward cancer nursing. My goal became to make the experience somehow better for the patients I would encounter.
What are you excited about in the field of oncology right now?
SB: I am excited about the many advances in cancer care. I actively support research and help patients enroll in clinical trials. These new therapies can make a big difference. Another family member developed lymphoma and failed on traditional therapies. He enrolled in a clinical trial of radioimmunotherapy that extended his life. Eventually he did lose his battle with cancer, but without that therapy, he believed he wouldn't have lived as long as he did.
What advice would you give someone entering the field of oncology nursing?
SB: Follow your heart. If this is a career you are drawn to, be assured that challenges are also opportunities. Keep learning, and seek certification. Continually reinforce your commitment to credentialing and strive to give the best care to your patients and the facility where you work.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
SB: We love the outdoors, so I would go camping and enjoy nature's beauty more. I would continue to support cancer care, mission work, and, if time allowed, I would work to improve oncology nursing care in prisons.