Vickie is a gynaecological cancer nurse specialist working with the Kent Oncology Service.
I'm passionate about working with people with ovarian cancer full stop. I want the best possible support for every woman who is diagnosed with this disease, no matter where they live.
As a gynae cancer nurse, I see patients with all of the gynaecological cancers – I’m working with about 600 patients at the moment, and we see about 100 new cases of ovarian cancer every year. We support women in a whole range of areas – we’re there when they first get their diagnosis, we help them as they move through treatment, then we see them regularly after treatment for follow up scans and appointments.
In just one day I might tell one woman who has ovarian cancer that they are in a remission after treatment, and then help another with the transition to palliative care. We are there for each moment of a person’s diagnosis and treatment, to provide crucial, holistic support at one of the most challenging times in someone’s life.
What to say to someone
Being there when someone gets the news that they have ovarian cancer is so important. Everyone reacts completely differently, and that’s OK. Sometimes the worst time for people is the first diagnosis – but for others, hearing about a recurrence is much more difficult. Giving difficult news is never easy, and this is when our team comes in. The team I work with are all fantastic so I know that whilst I may not always deliver the news myself, it will be delivered in an appropriate and sensitive way by one of my colleagues. I’m there to support them but what I actually say at that moment is usually very little. It is such big news that people need time to process it and take it in. I always make sure they have understood the news correctly and what the immediate next steps are, and reassure them that they can contact us whenever they want.
Questions and answers
Questions, worries and a need for more information can come to a person after difficult news has had time to sink in. People often make a note of thoughts or questions that pop into their head, then they can ring me to talk things through. I am passionate about communication skills for health care professionals. People will always remember how you made them feel, and we want people to feel reassured even at a time of intense emotion. I trained in advanced communication skills earlier in my career and it had such a positive impact on my work that I trained to be a national facilitator in advanced communication skills for senior healthcare professionals. I think it is an essential skill in all aspects of healthcare, not just cancer care and I am sad that it isn’t a mandatory course that we all have to complete. It has incalculable benefits in every area of our work.
A good relationship with your nurse
I can think of many women I have treated whose relationship with us gynae cancer nurses made a big difference to them. One woman was making the difficult decision to stop active treatment and move toward treatments that would help to control her symptoms, rather than reduce the cancer. This is such a difficult time. We explored the reality of this and helped her to make informed choices about exactly what interventions she did and didn’t want whilst maintaining the best quality of life possible. She felt in control of the choices she made about palliative care and further treatment and was able to be at one of her children’s milestone birthday celebrations.
Being a cancer nurse
The truth is that I wanted to work in cancer care the minute I had completed my nurse training. The part of my job that gives me real satisfaction is talking to people about things that others may shy away from. Having difficult conversations is hard, but to see the impact it has on someone when they have understood and accepted a difficult fact is so, so rewarding. It can mean the difference between someone accepting they are coming to the end of their life and having a really important discussion with a family member, versus never saying what they wanted to say to that person.
People often ask me how I can do what I do, and I always say the same. I can’t change a woman’s cancer diagnosis but hopefully I can have some small influence on how they experience it. I am here as their advocate and to support them as best I can. It is an incredible privilege to have the job I have.
This summer Vickie featured as one of the models for our new TAKE OVAR campaign. We spoke to her backstage at the shoot, watch Vickie's video. Three quarters of women with ovarian cancer say they do not get the support they need. Together we can make sure every women receives the support she needs. Join Vickie in telling every one that enough is enough, It's time to TAKE OVAR.