No one ever wants to hear a diagnosis of cancer, but when it happens, oncology nurses are the rock-solid support many patients turn to. As the latest numbers show cancer continues to be a steadily rising health concern, oncology nurses will continue to play an essential role to patients and families.

May is Oncology Nurses Month and honors all the ways oncology nurses help their patients navigate a road they never expected to travel. Oncology nurses have duties that help patients understand a diagnosis, become educated about options and treatment, and adjust to a terminal prognosis or one that includes living a life after a cancer diagnosis and as a survivor.

The National Cancer Institute states “In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease.” However, as cancer treatments become more effective, oncology nurses are also caring for the increasing number of cancer survivors.

According to the Oncology Nursing Society, this year’s theme “The Art of Caring, The Science of Care,” highlights both the reassuring guidance and compassion nurses show as well as the intricacies of cancer treatment.

Patients and their families often need time to absorb a diagnosis of cancer, and oncology nurses are there to help them figure out what to do next. As treatment advances, they are there to offer support, give exceptional care, and prepare patients for any treatment side effects. If a patient’s diagnosis is terminal, they are able to help them adjust and live life comfortably. Oncology nurses help patients understand the medical treatment they need and the various options they might have available.

But through all the medical decisions, these nurses also offer compassionate and knowledgeable care. With the rapid-fire developments in cancer treatment, oncology nurses must stay up-to-date on the cutting edge treatments that might become available to their patients or in advising patients on how to reduce cancer risks. They are a shoulder to lean on and a valuable resource for families. They are able to help patients manage pain and discomfort, offer advice for dealing with unpleasant side effects, and report any adverse side effects of treatments.

Oncology nurses also are on the front lines, hearing patients concerns and helping to guide them through insurance issues. They ask if patients can afford the treatment and what alternatives they may have. But they are also able to hear the fear and listen to the concerns of patients and their loved ones.

Because oncology nurses are working so closely with patients, they see exactly how cancer can have a devastating impact on lives and families. From this viewpoint, they are excellent advocates for cancer policies in government, in insurance, and in research. Oncology nurses have a valuable and respected voice to help create changes in policies that impact cancer patients.

This month as oncology nurses reflect on the vast scientific knowledge they possess to the deep wells of compassion and empathy they use to support their patients, they can be reinvigorated by the reasons they go into the field. Patients and families depend on their steadfast care and the reward for this field are great.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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