Holding onto hope through the helping hand of a melanoma research nurse

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120914Cain Suzanne.JPGBy Suzanne Cain, Research nurse supervisor, Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology
Research nursing is a unique specialty but not one that can be taught in nursing school.

It's a role that requires autonomy, critical thinking, communication, compassion and knowledge of when and how to help others hold onto hope.

My 30-year nursing career has offered success and fulfillment, but never more than in my role at MD Anderson. Every day I'm surrounded by many inspiring individuals: our patients, their families and friends, and talented medical professionals. The daily interactions are my greatest blessings.

The battle against melanoma is personal for me. My father was diagnosed with it when he was in his 30s. Even as a small child, I could sense the urgency and importance of the event that burdened my parents. 

To this day, the donor skin graft scar on my father's thigh is a reminder of the work I do. He's fortunate; his melanoma has never recurred.

Melanoma is an aggressive cancer, but our physicians are just as aggressive. I have learned so much about melanoma and the latest melanoma treatments, because we see it every day in the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology.

A compass and anchor

As a research nurse, I become the glue that holds the clinical trial protocol together.

I see patients in the clinic and treatment centers, collect information about side effects, coordinate schedules and educate patients and prospective patients about our treatment protocols.

Each day, I have the opportunity to be a part of an important time in their lives. I have been the compass to help a patient navigate the MD Anderson maze, and a calming anchor when the day has become overwhelming.

For one patient, I was an anchor at a challenging moment in his life. He was a doctor who was participating in a trial evaluating an experimental drug. He had just been informed of test findings that his disease had progressed after he had undergone one short treatment cycle.

As a doctor, he was deeply aware of the implications. He was alone in Houston without his family to provide support, so I remained with him. I helped him to get through that difficult morning, to keep holding onto hope.

Fortunately, after a consult and successful surgical intervention, he was able to continue on the trial. He received two years of the study drug, and his cancer is now in remission.

This doctor sees the "new life" he has been given as his opportunity to help patients and save lives, because his MD Anderson team saved his life.

In research, nurses learn to multitask, be flexible, creative and innovative while remembering that our patients are people in desperate times who need our expertise and care. 

My desire is to greet each day with a smile on my face to help keep hope alive for every patient I meet.

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