ONS Re-Ignites Fire and Pride in Oncology Nursing

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About 140 nurses from M. D. Anderson Cancer Center -- more than 30 who presented research and clinical projects -- attended the 34th Annual Oncology Nursing Society Congress in San Antonio April 30 - May 3. The meeting attracted more than 6,000 oncology nurses from across the nation and across clinical sub specialties.

 Here are some ONS highlights as experienced by a couple of M. D. Anderson nurses:

Thursday, April 30

For three M. D. Anderson nurses, this morning's opening session was an enthusiastic and inspiring reminder of why they became oncology nurses.

 Anita Broxson, MSN, RN and program director of the Beth Sanders Moore Young Breast Cancer Survivors Program; Faith Strunk, MSN, RN, a family nurse practitioner in Breast Medical Oncology; and Linh Thai, RN, a clinical inpatient nurse on P9 agreed that the enthusiasm of the attendees and program re-ignited a personal energy that they each will take back to their patients and co-workers.

 While a mariachi group set the stage for the lively culture of San Antonio, it was keynote speaker Geralyn Lucas, the sassy author of the book, "Why I Wore Lipstick to my Mastectomy," who touched the hearts of the attendees. Her humorous and touching stories about her nurses left many in the ballroom dabbing their eyes, nodding and laughing in agreement and remembering fond patients.

"Geralyn so beautifully articulated what it means to be an oncology nurse, and the fact that it was a patient who had the insight made it even more incredible," said Broxson, a veteran M. D. Anderson nurse who is now pursuing her Ph.D.  Broxson presented research in the afternoon poster session.

Strunk, a colleague of Broxson's said, "It's so great to have someone outside our profession speaking so upbeat, so beautifully about what we do.  We know our patients and their families appreciate what we do, but until you've encountered an oncology nurse, people don't know the level of commitment and true expertise."

For Thai, this was the first ONS meeting she had attended in nine years.  When she attended her last meeting, also in San Antonio, she had just graduated from nursing school and joined M. D. Anderson.  This year's meeting brought a new perspective and she more fully appreciates the value of not just the sessions but meeting fellow professionals.  "I appreciate the networking with other nurses," said Thai who also attended a morning educational session on new research in renal cell carcinoma.

Friday, May 1
Before a crowd of about 200 nurses, Joyce Dains, DrPH, JD, RN, FNP-BC, director for Advanced Practice Nurses (APN) Programs and a member of the Survivorship Steering Committee at M. D. Anderson, outlined M. D. Anderson's model for addressing the needs of a growing population of breast cancer survivors.

Dains was one of three panelists who presented on the topic and stressed the tremendous role that APNs have in the transitional care. M. D. Anderson has opened disease-specific survivorship clinics to serve survivors of thyroid, genitourinary and gynecologic cancers; a clinic dedicated to breast cancer survivorship care is opening soon. The clinics are staffed by an interdisciplinary health care team including Advanced Practice Nurses. Fran Zandstra, MBA, BSN, RN, OCN, director of M. D. Anderson's Survivorship Program, attended the session and took questions from attendees who lingered after the session.

 The issue of survivorship is great interest to Tiffany Richards, ANP, AOCNP, RN, an advanced practice nurse in the Lymphoma and Myeloma Clinic.  Also an active volunteer with the International Myeloma Foundation, Richards said she too believes that survivorship programs must be disease specific.  She reports that in myeloma, 30 to 40 percent of patients are living with the disease 10 years and beyond and that their needs are much different than those of a breast or prostate cancer survivor.

Richards also presented at a myeloma education session today that attracted about 500 people, a great response to a session dedicated to a relatively rare cancer. She said that meetings like ONS are a great way to not only network with care providers who share specialties but to share information with nurses who work beyond the large academic centers.  Plus, it's also a chance to talk about future research collaborations.

"ONS is great for bringing together a diversity of nurses, those who work in the large academic centers and those who are the community oncology setting or rural areas," said Richards.  "Those who work in settings beyond the large academic centers often are dealing with patients who are underinsured and uninsured and who have many other burdens at home in addition to their cancer. Their experience with patients with myeloma, and any cancer, is going to be much different from what we experience here."

Richards, who has worked at M. D. Anderson since 2004, received that 2009 ONS Excellence in Patient / Public Education Award.


Saturday, May 2

Mary Hughes, a clinical nurse specialist in the Department of Psychiatry, today delivered the ONS Foundation Mara Mogensen Flaherty Memorial Lecture entitled, "Sexuality and Cancer: The Final Frontier for Nurses."

A frequent lecturer on sexuality and quality of life issues of cancer patients, Hughes works with patients at M. D. Anderson as well as the Harris County Hospital District's Lyndon Baines Johnson Hospital where M. D. Anderson supervises the oncology program.

Advanced Practice Nurse Tiffany Richards was part of the large audience assembled in the massive hall to hear Hughes' lecture on a subject that few health care providers or patients discuss, especially in the cancer setting.

Richards said that Mary's message to nurses was this:  "Don't be afraid to ask or talk about sexuality or intimacy issues."

Richards, who has an extensive clinical background not only in oncology but sexual abuse and domestic violence, said sexuality issues cut across disease sites, gender and age but what's vital is communication.  "It can be intimidating to ask a patient about sexuality issues but it can be meaningful to patients that you are opening the door to them talking about their concerns," said Richards.

 Richards also attended other sessions given by Sergio Giralt, M.D. and Maria Guerrero regarding nursing management issues associated with hematologic malignancies and T-cell lymphoma.

The Oncology Nursing Society Congress ended on Sunday, May 3.

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