This Is What Nurses Bring to Your Cancer Care Team

June 29, 2016
What greater teamwork can you imagine than an Olympic team effort? Olympic medalist Shannon Miller experienced a rare type of glory when the “Magnificent Seven” gymnastics team captured gold at the 1996 Olympics. And she experienced that same sense of teamwork again when she triumphantly battled ovarian cancer.
While her family and friends were a great source of support during her treatment, she credits her team of specialists with expertly supervising her care. Each member of Shannon’s cancer team showed the same degree of dedication that Shannon devoted to her Olympic preparation.
Nurses, especially, took a frontline role throughout her battle with cancer. Shannon says the nurses, who are often overlooked, “are the ones who are really there with you every day, every step of the way.”
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Because of their daily interaction with patients, they can often provide the most help. They are “extremely knowledgeable, particularly with the day-to-day stuff that is really tough — the nausea, the fatigue, the chemo brain — because that is a very real thing,” she said.
It is crucial, Shannon urges, that women “understand the purpose” of the nursing staff, who are valuable team players and integral to the success of modern cancer treatment.
What roles do nurses play in team treatment?
Today, medicine is patient-centered, which simply means that the entire treatment team is focused on delivering the best care and achieving the best outcomes for each patient. A professional nursing staff creates a culture of care that impacts both patients and other staff members.
Nurses can play many roles in a patient’s care, according to their patient’s needs:
1. Nurses are caregivers.

A woman with cancer will have nurses by her side throughout the changing demands of treatment. Nurses provide holistic care for the unique cultural, spiritual, emotional, and mental needs of each of their patients. At times, a cup of ice chips may be the best medicine for a person getting chemotherapy. At other times, a nurse recognizes that a woman wants privacy or someone to answer her questions.

2. Nurses are decision makers.

For Shannon, nurses helped not just with the medical side of her treatment, but also with the decision-making side of things. “Nurse navigators can help you figure out how to get the financial end in control,” said Shannon. They also ensure that each person on your medical team is on board. “It is critical to have everyone on the same page with such a positive attitude,” she recalls. Nurses use critical-thinking skills to help women navigate not only medical treatment, but also insurance and administrative red tape.

3. Nurses are communicators.

As frontline team members, nurses have the widest range of contact — interacting with patients, their families, their visitors, and the doctors. They are the most visible team players and use their daily contact to provide insight and firsthand knowledge to both sides. Nurses are everybody’s liaison, relaying information from the patient to the doctor and from the doctor to the family.

4. Nurses are care managers.

The nurse’s role involves managing and coordinating cohesive care delivery. Nurses are involved in staffing, reporting, and delivering care. If a woman needs to see a specialist, the nurse will make sure that happens.

5. Nurses are advocates.

Of all the roles that a nurse fulfills, none is greater than that of patient advocate. For a woman who is nauseous or experiencing “chemo brain,” advocacy takes the form of notifying visitors about what a patient needs, whether that’s rest or time to fully consider all of her options. Having a nurse in her corner helps a patient deal with the embarrassing, frightening experiences that come with cancer treatment.

6. Nurses are teachers.

Women who receive a cancer diagnosis often encounter a steep learning curve. Not only do they want to know about the causes of their disease, but they also want a clear description of procedures and treatment outcomes. Nurses help patients grasp medical terminology; they explain how to take medications; and they spell out follow-up procedures and home care. As Shannon learned, when you have questions, the nurses have the answers.

All members of the cancer care team play critical roles, and they must work together in overcoming every challenge. But the nurse is a vital link among those team members, acting as caregiver, care manager, and patient advocate. By working together, the care team doesn’t compete for medals, but for something far greater: the lives of each and every patient.