In honor of National Nurses Week, we are delighted to share an interview with VivorCare's first (and amazing!) Survivorship NP, Gwenda.
What made you want to become an NP? How long have you been in nursing?
As a child I wanted to be a nurse, but changed course towards scientific research in my college years, at the end of which my Mum was diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer and I moved back home to care for her on hospice. The hospice nurses kept telling me I should go into nursing. It was after moving to America, and completing 3 years of postdoctoral research—then trying to find fulfillment in clinical research—that I met some amazing NPs who convinced me to go back to school. I've now been working as an NP in Oncology for almost 11 years and loving it.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to a recent cancer survivor about life beyond cancer treatment?
Give yourself and your body time. Just because treatment might be done, things aren't just going to snap back the way they were, and some things may never go back to the way they were. The goal is to keep moving forward and become the best "new you".
Can you talk about the need you see for a company like VivorCare? What do you hope that patients will take out of participating in VivorCare programs?
There have been so many advances in oncology care that more people are being cured or living longer with cancer, but the ramifications of those treaments aren't always being addressed. Patients may be left with long term side effects or have new health risks as a result of their treatment. The emotional rollercoaster for some patients is worse than the physical effects, and still some other patients make it through their cancer journey with ease. VivorCare recognizes that patients are individuals and are all on their own journey. The goal is to help patients navigate that journey; by providing them with the specific tools and resources they need to take back control of their lives; to empower them.
If you could tell anyone considering a career in oncology nursing, what would your #1 piece of advice be?
Remember to fit your own oxygen mask first. It's something I'm not always good at, but self-care really does make you a better care giver. And don't be afraid to make connections. Oncology is such a rewarding field—and I think especially especially because of the connections and bonds we make with our patients.
Can you talk about patients ‘re-entering’ their lives after treatment ends? Do you have any advice for how they can manage their stresses and anxieties after treatment while trying to regain ‘normalcy’ in life?
I think it's really important to remember that we really only have control over ourselves; what we do to ourselves in terms of what we eat, what we do for physical and mental wellness, how we advocate for ourselves, etc. By focusing on those things we have control over—rather than fixating on the things we can't—we are able to be more present in the moment and move forward.
What would you say to the family or caregiver of a cancer survivor?
I think it's often hard for families to realize that the journey doesn't end when treatment ends for a patient. I've had patients tell me that they find it hard when friends or family tell them how amazing they look and how fantastic they are doing ... when inside they are crumbling. I think just having that awareness and recognizing that your loved one is still travelling a long road and just being there for them is critical. It's also important to recognize, however, that survivorship care also extends to the families and loved ones of cancer patients. Often a loved one may have had to change their role from partner to caregiver, for example, and that can be difficult to navigate. Fertility concerns; financial stresses; many different issues associated with a cancer diagnosis can impact a whole family.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about nursing or what it means to you to be in your field?
Providing good care for someone at their most vulnerable—when they have placed all their trust in you—is such a rewarding experience. Likewise, working with a team of passionate individuals who believe in providing the very best survivorship care for patients where they are is just such a phenomenal opportunity.I'm so very excited to be a part of it and can't wait to see this program grow.