By: Trish Adkins
Nurses play a critical role in the lives of children facing cancer. Beyond their medical expertise supporting treatment, managing medications and answering family questions, pediatric oncology nurses also fill a critical comfort and care role for families. This emotional support is so important to parents, affected children and siblings when life is at its most uncertain.
These are nurses that families need. Here are the five things you should know about pediatric oncology nurses:
1. They know when you need a hug.
When Claire was in treatment for Ewing sarcoma, her nurses took amazing care of her and her family. “Pediatric oncology nurses are a special breed for sure. Not only did they take amazing care of my child, but always seemed to know when I needed a hug, too,” says Claire’s mom Sheila.
2. They know childhood cancer firsthand.
When her brother Jimmy was being treated for leukemia, a nurse showed Cass Butler how a blood transfusion worked and let Cass pretend to be a nurse too. In that moment, Cass, who was just 10 years old, decided that she would become a nurse when she grew up. Today, Cass is a nurse and credits her empathy and compassion to the nurses she watched care for her brother.
“Pediatric cancer changes a family in a way nothing else really can. I’ve had a deep appreciation for the value of life since that year," said Cass.
3. They make hospital days special.
Being hospitalized is never fun and sometimes, kids with cancer miss out on holidays, special events and activities with their friends. When Jaxson, who battled a brain tumor, was hospitalized over his favorite holiday, Halloween, his nurse Steph decided to dress up with him. Jaxson went as Stitch and Steph found a red t-shirt and made herself a Lilo costume, so they could coordinate.
“Jaxson was so sick and this is when he was really started to decline from tumor progression; but he was so happy on that Halloween,” remembers his mom Diana.
4. They get families through scary nights and beyond.
Childhood cancer survivor Tony Salerno had to be placed in a medically induced coma. His nurse, Amanda, was assigned to Tony every shift she was on. Amanda got Tony’s parents through a lot of scary nights, providing support and expert care.
Amanda and Tony had a bond before he even opened his eyes from the coma.
Two years later, when Tony earned the rank of Eagle Scout, Amanda drove 1.5 hours to come to Tony’s Court of Honor.
“I know Tony has a friend and protector for the rest of his life... she is a very special nurse and a very special person,” said Karen, Tony’s mom.
5. They guide families through the hardest things.
Hospice and palliative care nurses specialize in end of life care; navigating parents through uncertain and emotional territory. These nurses are the nurses so many families need, but don’t want.
Jay Scott, Alex Scott’s dad and Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation co-executive director, recalls Gail, a nurse that helped while Alex was dying. Gail came to the family just two days before Alex passed away. Jay and Liz did not think they needed Gail’s support. However, Gail, who was an experienced hospice nurse, knew better — telling them to rest and take care of themselves.
“At the time the nurse was telling us what to do, we may have resented her a bit. But it didn’t take long for us to appreciate what Gail did for us and Alex. Our gratitude is endless for Nurse Gail for being so right and changing our lives," said Jay.