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Coping with loss as a nurse - 'their memory drives me forward'

A prostate cancer nurse talks about the grief and
Photo: Coping with loss as a nurse - 'their memory drives me forward'
Inspiration and courage are two words that Adjunct Professor Sally Sara draws on a lot when talking about her experience as a prostate cancer specialist nurse.

“There have been so many men I've cared for who’ve inspired me, especially those who are no longer with us.”

“You do get quite a connection with them, working with patients and their families over a number of years, particularly those where their disease gets worse and eventually they pass away from it.”

“Those men, their courage and their dignity, and also their eagerness to help other people who've been diagnosed with the disease, even when the situation is not good – my inspiration comes from that”, Adjunct Professor Sara told HealthTimes.

Adjunct Professor Sara leads the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia’s Prostate Cancer Specialist Nursing Service, which includes 86 nurses located around Australia.
“I often think about those men and their lovely families, who have done so much to try and raise awareness among the community and raise money for research and at the same time, are dealing with the knowledge that their life was going to be shortened by this disease.”

“Their memory really drives me forward to keep on striving – to improve quality of care, support and resources available to these men. It’s had a big impact on me.”

Adjunct Professor Sara said that the journey of grief starts much earlier than death. It starts with the diagnosis, and nurses are on that journey from day one.

“As nurses, we’re there to support men and their families as they're grieving and with men who are newly diagnosed, the grief actually starts straight away. It doesn't just happen when a man passes away.”

“It’s important that we let ourselves feel that emotion.  When you're in a room and you've got a man and his family there, and they're being told bad news, or that the cancer has come back or progressed, that’s incredibly sad.”

“In that moment when you are there with the man and his family, your role professionally is to provide support in any way you can, and to try and make what lies ahead for them a little bit easier to bear.”

Adjunct Professor Sara said that nurses are often so caught up in caring for those in need, that they can forget to care for themselves too.

“It’s so important that nurses recognize when they need to get additional support, especially when the emotional side of things is impacting their work and their family, and they start to struggle.”

“A part of that is having good professional networks to debrief with the colleagues and access that help if they need it”, she added.

More than 30 years into her nursing career, Adjunct Professor Sara is still as passionate now about her work as she was when she began.

“I've had quite a few different nursing roles, and some management roles as well. In 2014, we had an opportunity to set up the prostate cancer nurse role in the southern area of Adelaide, where I was working at the time.”

“And I just thought it was a wonderful opportunity to set up a role from scratch that hadn't existed before.”

“From that time onwards, I've worked in the prostate cancer field. I can honestly say that it's been absolutely the most rewarding time in my career.”

“Every day, I see the impact prostate cancer has on the psychological health of men and their families. Seeing men suffering in silence and families destroyed, there is just so much need for this type of support.”

“And that’s why I do what I do. I’m passionate about providing quality care to men living with prostate cancer and their families.”

She said adapting to changes that have come with COVID-19 have been challenging – but that her team has met these challenges head on.

“We support over 80 nurses around Australia, and since COVID hit, we have worked very hard to try and support the nurses as best we can.”

“When the pandemic first hit, a lot of nurses had to quickly revert from face-to-face scheduling in their departments to telehealth reviews, and there was a lot of work in that for them.”

“They also were then dealing with situations where their patients were having their treatments impacted by COVID-19 and obviously, patients were feeling very worried about that, so they were in contact trying to find out what it all meant for them.”

“We worked hard to develop some fact sheets that the nurses could give to men and families who were in contact with them. These covered treatment, myth-busting, vaccination and prostate cancer, financial hardship, and mental health.”

“Our team definitely ramped up contact with our patients, and we embraced Zoom as a way to meet and support each other during this time too.”

“We just tried to make things as easy as possible as we could for our patients, and also our nursing cohort, who were facing significant challenges at the coalface of COVID”, Adjunct Professor Sara said.

To find out more or connect with a Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse, contact Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia on 1800 22 00 99 or visit www.pcfa.org.au.

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.