A week in my . . . Daffodil Centre: ‘I inform, advise and support people affected by cancer’

Clinical nurse specialist Fionnuala Keane is a cancer information service nurse at one of the Irish Cancer Society’s 12 hospital-based centres

Fionnuala Keane: a cancer information service nurse at the Daffodil Centre in the Mater hospital. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fionnuala Keane: a cancer information service nurse at the Daffodil Centre in the Mater hospital. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

I live in Clonsilla, which is just a short commute from the Mater hospital, and on Monday mornings I arrive at the Daffodil Centre before 9am.

I check my emails and search for any local, national or international media coverage of cancer-related issues, as this may generate queries to the centre during the week.

Much of my job involves giving information, support and advice to people affected by or concerned about cancer: this could include the patient, their family and friends, or health professionals.

We also get many members of the public calling in for help in reducing their risk of cancer.

I welcome and update the morning volunteers. We are privileged to have a great group of 12.

Depending on availability, I generally have one or two volunteers in the centre in the morning, and again in the afternoon. This ensures that the centre can remain open right throughout the day including lunchtime, which enables hospital staff to visit.

When the volunteers arrive, I update them on cancer-related media coverage and any other relevant matters they may need to deal with inquiries.

Throughout the course of the day, I meet a wide variety of visitors – mostly people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and want to learn more about their diagnosis and treatment options. Others may be family members or friends of people who have cancer.

We also run various cancer awareness stands in the hospital. On Tuesday, we had a stand in the main corridor so we got plenty of inquiries.

If anyone has more questions, the volunteers will direct them to me and I often invite people into the centre, which allows for greater privacy.

Reduce the risk of cancer

We now know that adopting a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer by up to 50 per cent, and, for cancer survivors, a healthy lifestyle can reduce their risk of recurrence. This is something we are also promoting at our awareness stand.

I had a visit from a man who had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was referred to me by his clinical nurse specialist, and wanted to speak to someone with the same diagnosis to discuss some of the common side effects associated with the different treatment options that are available to him.

I put him in touch with two people on the Irish Cancer Society’s “Survivors supporting survivors” programme, which offers emotional and practical support to newly diagnosed patients on a one-to-one basis. The volunteers have been carefully selected and trained to give support, practical information and reassurance when it is needed most.

The following day, I provided an “Understanding chemotherapy” education session for patients who are about to commence chemotherapy. This is a group session at which patients and their significant others are invited to learn about the general side effects of chemotherapy, and have an opportunity to have their practical questions answered.

They were then given a tour of the oncology day ward where they met their nurse specialist who answered specific treatment questions. This session takes about an hour. There is evidence to support the use of preparatory information and education to improve outcomes in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Follow-up advice

One such patient is a young woman who came to the centre after the morning session. She had completed chemotherapy for breast cancer and was experiencing a lot of menopausal symptoms due to her treatment.

We discussed these side effects in detail and discussed the options she had to manage them. She found this to be an invaluable practical and emotional support and I also signposted her to a cancer support group in her community.

I use quieter days to work on updating patient information booklets, and other administrative tasks. I recently attended a talk on up-to-date advances in cancer care and arranged a couple of meetings with other relevant stakeholders and key staff in the hospital and community, in an effort to build relationships and ensure we are providing the best service possible.

In the afternoon, I was visited by a family who were distressed to hear that their parent was diagnosed with a terminal illness. They had many questions about the diagnosis and what types of treatment were available.

I gave them information about the illness and helped them to compile a list of questions to ask their specialist.

I talked to them about the services available in the community such as the public health nurse, GP and palliative care services – and directed them to the cancer clinical nurse specialist in the hospital who can help refer their loved one to some of the community services.

This week, I met a woman who is struggling to cope with the financial impact of her cancer diagnosis. This is quite a common issue: I helped her with her queries regarding social welfare support, medical cards and grants available through the Irish Cancer Society.

I also give her the society’s booklet Managing the Financial Impact of Cancer and told her about other services in the local community such as their community welfare officer and the Citizens Information Service.

For more information about the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Centres, or about cancer care in Ireland, see cancer.ie or call the National Cancer Helpline on Freefone 1800 200 700.

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