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'It still gets me teary' - connecting with patients as a lung care nurse

A lung cancer nurse shares the emotional but rewar
Photo: 'It still gets me teary' - connecting with patients as a lung care nurse
For lung cancer nurse Nicole Parkinson, there are many special memories she has of patients she’s cared for over the years – but the memory of one patient in particular stays with her.

“As a nurse, I've had lots of wonderful memories of the patients I've supported, but there is one woman who I often think about – a lung cancer patient who I cared for for almost two years.”

“She would come into our day oncology clinic and have her treatment and, in the beginning, she was exceptionally anxious, and really scared about her diagnosis and treatments.”

“We used to have to lie her down and turn the lights out, just to try and get a cannula in her. She didn't speak much at all.”

“And just watching her transition, over four months, and to see her then sitting in the clinic and talking with other patients and having a laugh, and seeing her start to support other patients too, was amazing.”
“We could cannulate her without any fear at all, and she'd be cheeky and sort of laughing it up. It was really special to be able to meet her family as well, and see her cuddling her first grandchild.”

“So there were lots of bonding moments and very special times with this particular patient.”

Sadly, after the patient completed her treatment, her cancer did return and become terminal.

“In those palliative stages of her condition and during her admission to hospital, that's when she was no longer a patient in my day clinic”, said Ms Parkinson.

“But one day, she sent a message down to our clinic and asked if I could come and see her in the ward.”

“She wanted to say goodbye to me. It still gets to me. I still get teary talking about it.”

“She wanted to say what an impact I had in her lung cancer journey, and that just seeing a smiling face, and my happy, positive nature, was really appreciated.”

“Just having that request and to have such a beautiful conversation with her at the end of her life just constantly reminds me how important our job is and what a difference we can make to patients and their families.”

“It’s about carrying that motto of treating others the way that you would like to be treated.”

“Just being a nurse, being kind, caring, considerate, respecting patient's views, educating patients about procedures and drug treatments.”

“We help alleviate fears, and make them feel comfortable. It’s those little gestures, like offering cups of tea or something like that, going above and beyond what's expected, that can really make a patient's day and show them that you care. You're not just there doing a job.”

In Ms Parkinson’s current role as the Lung Foundation’s Lung Cancer Support Nurse, she says there are just as many rewards as there are challenges.

“It doesn't matter how many years that I've been looking after patients living with cancer and respiratory conditions, hearing patients struggle with a diagnosis and particularly the side effects of treatment, it can take a toll on you emotionally.”

“And, of course, in that oncology setting, there are those times that are very, very hard when you have to say goodbye to a patient that you've been looking after closely for quite a period of time.”

“You never get used to that, but I guess the positive of it all is that I've met some absolutely beautiful people over my 20 plus years of nursing and I wouldn't change a thing, even though you are dealing with the hardest parts of being a nurse”.

“There is such a privilege in caring and supporting people that are with lung cancer, and helping patients deal with those feelings of anxiety, anger and sadness that can come with a cancer diagnosis.”

And it’s not just about supporting a patient through their lung cancer journey – a huge part of Ms Parkinson’s role is supporting their families.

“The lung cancer support nurse program that I run at the Lung Foundation is actually open to carers as well.”

“It is wonderful that carers do reach out through our telephone service.”

“A big part is education. Some patients don't want to know all of the details of their diagnosis, but the family member might want to know more to try and support them ,and learn how to communicate and talk with the patient, as well as what to expect”.

Ms Parkinson said that it’s important for her to care for her own mental health and wellbeing, so she can keep on delivering the best possible care to her patients.

“For me, personally, during those times of hardship, I really find that debriefing and talking with other nursing colleagues does help.”

“I then try and just leave it at work, so I do a debrief if I can, and then go home with a clear head, as much as possible.”

“Eating a balanced diet, and not going home and eating all my emotions, is also important.”

“It find it helpful to stay physically active as well”, she said.

“When I get home from work, one of my favourite things to do is to take my excitable dog, who's very happy to see me, for a walk. Things like that really make a difference for me.”

Further information on the Lung Cancer Support Nurse Program, click here

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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.