Home News and Events News North West nurse reflects on life as a cancer nurse two years on from the pandemic

Stephanie Cleaver, is a Lead SACT (Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy) nurse at Rutherford Cancer Centre North West – a UK-wide network of specialist centres treating private and NHS patients – which is located in Liverpool.

According to Cleaver, who is 34 years old and lives in Liverpool, the past two years has brought challenges for all nurses, but behind the scenes she and her team have been continuing to treat vulnerable patients amid the wider strain on the UK’s health services. To mark International Nurses Day, she reflects on how far the centre and her team have come in spite of the major challenges that face the UK’s health care system, and the pandemic’s particular impact on cancer services.

Cleaver said: “I have been a nurse since 2009 and specifically worked within oncology for over 10 years. Growing up I always wanted to be a nurse so when I left school at 16 years old I went straight to do my nursing training at University and qualified when I was 21 years old.”

Cleaver has been personally affected by cancer, with her father passing away in [year] after being diagnosed with bowel cancer, and in the past month, following a suspicious mammogram, her mum has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It is hard to deal with but, if anything, it has made me want to stay in cancer nursing and it motivates me to be the best nurse I can be for my patients, and my team. Oncology nurses are responsible for providing holistic care for both patients and families, and this care goes way beyond medical need. We prepare patients for treatment, review bloodwork, handle the pre-assessment process and deliver treatment, but we also provide extensive emotional support for patients and their families. We often find that the relatives are more tense than the patient themselves, so we work closely with them to ensure that collectively we are able to provide the best support network to the patient.

“I don’t think about nursing as a job. Caring for cancer patients is different than any other area of nursing and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Each patient has unique requirements and will cope with their diagnosis and treatment differently, and we need to be able to deal with every type of patient. As a cancer nurse you need to be compassionate and you need to provide a lot of support – every patient is going through their own personal journey and it is our job to ensure we make it as comfortable as possible for them.

“The most rewarding part is getting to see a patient ring the bell after treatment is complete. As challenging as oncology nursing can be, there are moments of triumph that oncology nurses are privileged to experience alongside patients.”

“Typically, my days involve managing the SACT team, supporting them in delivering treatments, and liaising with consultants on patient cases. As we are a private centre (which also treats NHS patients) we are able to spend more time with each patient which can make such a difference to someone who is undergoing treatment. We also offer a 24-hour support helpline for patients, so they can speak to someone whenever they need.

“During the height of the pandemic, patients weren’t able to bring a friend or family member to their appointments. As a nurse your intuition is to comfort your patient, and working in these conditions where we couldn’t provide any physical support that they’d normally have from a loved one made it unbelievably tough.

“Sadly, due to the pandemic we are seeing more late stage cancers being diagnosed, often because people weren’t able to access diagnostic services. Now patients are suffering from late diagnosis. When it comes to cancer, the earlier the diagnosis the better the cure, but prevention is the ideal.

“I want patients in the North West to know that there is a massive support network here for them. If you suspect something, give yourself the best possible chance and know that you will have the support from us every step of the way. We have a very robust system to check patients in, and we have strict protocols in place to ensure we can keep our centre a Covid-safe environment for patients and staff. We have amazing facilities and really experienced staff, and if you are an NHS patient it can be possible to be treated at our centre too.”

Rutherford’s independent network currently consists of four cancer treatment centres across the UK and draws patients from across the world. The centres offer high energy proton beam therapy and conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy, with state-of-the-art diagnostics including MRI and CT.

Across the four Rutherford Cancer Centres, there’s an expert team of oncology nurses, each one playing a vital role in the cancer treatment process and the overall patient experience.

The global celebration of nursing is held annually on 12 May – the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. The theme for this year is ‘a voice to lead: invest in nursing and respect rights to secure global health’.

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