Treatment Day Lessons

My treatment for metastatic breast cancer happens at a teaching hospital. It isn’t unusual for a resident or intern to accompany my oncologist during my office visit. I have become a quick study as to who seems confident, empathetic, and knowledgeable in a few short minutes. Some interact more; some merely observe. These residents come and go.

What I failed to realize until a couple of weeks ago was just how much teaching goes on between my treatment nurses and myself during treatment and from that experience. We learn different things as we teach together. Below is a description of what I took away from a recent treatment.

I’ll start with labs. My port had not yet been replaced at the time which meant an IV line was placed in my arm for the blood draw and chemo. Both arms have been used/abused generously from a hospital stay and a previous treatment visit. My port was so handy for my personal comfort and because of my hard to find veins. The IV Team was paged, and they came to detect a vein. I love that there is a team for this sole purpose. They rolled in with an ultrasound on wheels and searched for a vein. A few phlebotomists huddled round and we all watched. A perfect black round shape was found that was described as a juicy vein. It seemed newsworthy to the other phlebotomists that two different needle sizes were available to access veins and that I needed the larger one inserted. Now they know. I asked how long ultrasounds had been used to support vein detection. The answer was about 10 years. I couldn’t imagine what it was like before this when someone would be poked relentlessly multiple times to find a vein so blood could be drawn and an IV line set. Pure torture for someone like me. I also learned fewer people chose ports ten years ago. Now, the reverse is true.

Patients and nurses also have a lot to teach and learn from each other.

I was fortunate to have one of my favorite nurses assigned to me. Libby had only been my nurse once before, but I liked her instantly. She was thorough, caring, and interested in me. It didn’t hurt she thought I looked much younger than my age. Flattery will get you everywhere, right? I was thrilled to see Libby open the door to my room since the nurse who had showed me to my room and took my vitals struck me as unsure about the equipment. I decided she was new, good hearted, but new.

Libby had done her reading and read the medical notes from my recent hospital stay involving the leak in my port and a blood infection. The teacher in me always finds someone who does their homework impressive. I learned Libby had once been an education major herself before switching to nursing. Anyway, she sat down and wanted to hear more about exactly what happened and how my problems were discovered. She sat down to listen. That action also impressed me. When nurses have this information, it helps them look for signs and symptoms. I was more than happy to share information that could be helpful to other patients.

Later, Libby told me about some information that was shared with the nurses about an anonymous patient that had swelling the size of a golf ball on her neck where the cause was unknown. Guess who that was? I rather bashfully admitted that was also me. I felt like a problem patient. Yet, I was pleased that the other nurses had been made aware of the situation and what was done to address it. Furthermore, I learned that the special triage nurse who had come in to examine my throat and neck that day had questioned if the port was working effectively when an allergic reaction was thought to be the cause. I remember her coming in to assess me but had forgotten she questioned my port. It was ruled out because my port still returned blood. All this is important because it can help them connect dots faster in the future. I never realized I was being so useful by having all these problems. I sure know I’ve learned things I never thought I would.

One thing I wanted to happen during my visit was to have my sutures removed from my port removal. There was a small suture drama days earlier where interventional radiology told me still having these could pose a problem for them placing a new port. It was completely absurd and another long story. When I finally spoke to my surgeon’s nurse, I asked her if I could get someone to remove them while having treatment. I would be at a hospital after all and it shouldn’t be that hard, certainly not enough of an uproar to uproot plans. She agreed. Another nurse came in before my treatment started and took them out in minutes. It was so simple that I almost thought I could do it myself, but my small scissors and tweezers aren’t sterile and I’m not quite that crazy.

Finally, the original nurse who had shown me to my room returned. She had returned with some questions on cold capping. I’m thinking I must have a reputation for being approachable and somewhat informative. Her questions were pretty standard involving timing for post-cooling and then thawing. It’s different for different chemotherapies received. If it helps someone learn that can support other patients, I’m all for it.

Collaboration in patient care benefits everyone, including future patients. I never really thought about nurses possibly learning from me. Now, I realize it’s exactly like how my students taught me as a teacher. I learned tons from them. My role as the patient has similarities to that of the student. We all work together. My treatment day was a phenomenal learning experience for me and a good example of teamwork where I’m a valued member of the team.

Author: Kristie Konsoer

I've been living well with metastatic breast cancer since 2012. This blog is a place where I can share thoughts and ideas on cancer, how I feel perceptions of cancer must change, and how I am finding a way to live with strength, hope, meaning, resiliency, humor, and hopefully a little wisdom.

12 thoughts on “Treatment Day Lessons”

  1. Wonderful post! I can remember when I was having treatment the oncology nurses telling me how much they learn from patients like us who are inquisitive and become knowledgeable about the cancers they are diagnosed with. Since then I’ve been involved in training occasionally.

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  2. Great read, Kristie! For several years of my nursing career, I was also fortunate to be an educator. You’re 100% correct in saying that we learn from our students. In my bedside nursing role, I learned more from my patients than I could have ever learned from a textbook. Learning is always a wonderful 2-way street!

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    1. As an elementary teacher, I always learned more from my students than from textbooks, too. Indeed it is a 2-way street and one where I will keep learning. Sitting in that treatment chair seems very passive, yet each of us sits there with information to give.

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  3. How satisfying it must feel to know that you have been able to help this way! Your struggles have turned into learning experiences and will benefit future patients. I’m so glad you were able to directly experience this. Surely some patients teach without even realizing how helpful they have been.

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  4. I love this post. I’ve had terrible experiences with most nurses thus far except my now consulting oncologists np and one beautiful woman Stacey who I’ll never forget who would swap with other nurses to be mine on shift during a rather long stay at Stanford about three years ago. These things and people stay with us as we go along – all opportunities to teach and learn, all. I really can’t stand when a medical practitioner doesn’t take the time to read my chart before any interaction, it really bothers me – I will say likely for the same reasons you state as well as how dangerous it can be not to read our charts. I’ve had some very close calls in recent months because someone just couldn’t be bothered to do a brief review.

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    1. It took me time to form relationships when I moved to another cancer center, but I feel at home again. The people do stay with us. Knowing about us as patients isn’t too much to ask. It is important for them to know about us, especially when we’ve been having problems. We and our nurses bring a lot with us to the table. I hope we both keep those we need in our corner.

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  5. I love the listening nurses you get and the patient who is willing to SHARE! Don’t you know how valuable you are together?
    Fun that you admitted to being said exceptional port/neck patient. Fame follows you.
    Team work is the way!

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    1. Problems seem to follow me. Sure, they need to know who I am because of those, but I’m also a patient that likes to visit (share) and get to know them. I am lucky to have such compassionate nurses.

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