Tracey Nicholls, ENT Head & Neck Cancer Coordinator , Nurse Practitioner, Flinders Medical Centre, Adelaide
I have been nursing for over 40 years now, with over half of my career in the operating room in the specialty of Ear Nose and Throat (ENT). In 2006 I set on a path to do my masters of nursing science: Nurse Practitioner. This was completed and endorsed in 2010.
In 2015 I applied for a position at Flinders Medical Centre Adelaide and was awarded the role. This was a new role, not only for the hospital, but for the state of South Australia. There were no actual “guidelines” for the role, or what it was, or should eventually become. After several months, and a formidable learning curve, I was able to visit Head & Neck Cancer Clinical Practice Consultants Sarah Davies and Justine Oats at Chris O’Brien Life House in Sydney, Meg Nutt at Canberra Base Hospital, and Vicki Thomson and Felix Mariano at Auckland City Hospital. This was an amazing opportunity to spend some time with these incredible nurses, witnessing their daily routines. It gave me confidence that I was on the right track.
“I’m afraid it is cancer”: These five words, in a 30-to-45-minute consultation with a patient, are possibly the only words that are really heard. The information that a patient hears at that initial consult is overwhelming and rarely comprehensible.
What lays ahead in the minutes, days and months changes a person’s life forever. Life, or rather life as you knew it, becomes very different … “a new normal” they say. Well even the new normal takes quite some time before it resembles anything “normal”. Coping with everything a cancer diagnosis deals out is tough – the harsh treatment regimes, taking you to almost death and then some; endless appointments; tubes in every hole, or even some holes especially made; schedules; no saliva; pain; no taste, or everything tasting like cardboard; burns; ulcers; lethargy; depression; illness so you cannot eat; not having food or fluid for days; nausea so intense that even the thought of food initiates dry reaching; losing 10-20 kgs in a matter of months; isolation and loneliness because your partner can’t cope; no job because the boss fires you; no money…Centrelink!!!!
Then comes the day … the day it all stops. The day the scan is clear. The day you do find the “new normal”. The day you start to breathe once again…
TIPS: Keep a diary for all the appointments. Try to maintain exercise and fluids. Listen to your body if it says it is tired, rest. Don’t feel guilty about not achieving things. Remember we are all here, the entire team. It’s a big team with many players, specialists in their fields and roles to help you through your journey. Our reward is that you get there.