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Commentary: In Praise of Cancer Care Nurses

By Marcia Gruber

Buffalo, NY – Ambrose Redmoon wrote that "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

Every day I meet courageous people who have cancer and the courageous people who work diligently to treat and cure them.

My dear friend Penny had to undergo a bone marrow transplant this winter. Penny has a great team of doctors, nurses, therapists, dieticians, and other professionals who make sure she gets the best treatment available. Bone Marrow transplant patients have many difficult days. The medicine side effects and low blood counts cause gastrointestinal problems, hair loss, skin rashes and a risk of infection. These symptoms are scary, grueling, even embarrassing but the nurses constantly encourage Penny to look ahead to the day when these symptoms are manageable and she is home. Penny often mentioned how attentive, proficient and thoughtful her nurses are. She knows them all by name and can tell you something special about each of them. They make her feel safe. Penny also has great respect for her Nurse Practitioner.

Penny describes her Nurse Practitioner as "just right" and says she is smart, personable, direct and efficient and always follows-through with the answers to questions. More importantly, the NP always tells Penny the truth, good or bad. And when the news is not good, she tells her how they will manage the bad stuff. My friend has tremendous confidence in her doctors but it is the nurses that she spent her days and nights with and who made her comfortable even during some of the most unpleasant times. What's more, Penny was delighted with the compassionate way the nurses interacted with her family. Penny feels secure in the care of these empathetic and kindhearted nurse professionals. She knows that there are no guarantees, but Penny believes that her best opportunity for cure is in the hands of these skilled experts.

I am a nurse and I am extremely proud of the way my colleagues have cared for my friend. The personal satisfaction one feels when helping someone like Penny through this journey of illness and wellness is beyond measure. Many people assume that the role of a registered nurse is to carry out doctors' orders. Nursing is indeed so much more. The NY Board of Nursing describes the practice of the registered nurse as "diagnosing and treating human responses to actual or potential health problems through case finding, health teaching, health counseling and the provision of care, as well as implementing medical regimens."

My six year old niece announced to her first grade class that she wants to be a nurse when she grows up. She decided this after trying on her grandmother's blue nursing school cape and nurse's cap. For the most part, career choices are simple only when you are 6. But if you like science, if you like critical thinking and solving problems, if you like interacting with all types of people, if you like career variety, then the choice can be simple; Nursing is the perfect career for you. Nurses are found in many places and have many, many ways to make a difference in the lives of others. We work as staff nurses in medical offices and hospitals, as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, school nurses, research nurses, as paralegals, as camp nurses, and let us not forget our military colleagues who are providing nursing care in war zones. But for the lack of available time, this list could go on.

Nursing is a serious career. It is a motivating and rewarding career. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. And, it is a career you can be proud of for a lifetime.

Marcia Gruber is vice president of Therapeutic Services and Patient Access at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

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