Kathy Blake, Chemo RN
VISION FOR CANCER CARE
This is first in a series of testimonials in which chemo patients, their families and the staff and doctors who care for them share stories of their journey to fight and win the battle against cancer. A new and expanded Chemo space including the installation of new technology is projected to be completed in 2020 at the cost of approximately $2.6 million. The project will be one of the important components in the Stratford General Hospital Foundation’s capital campaign which will have a tremendous impact on patient care.
Knowing you’re in the hands of committed, caring, highly trained professionals is an important part of the battle for many cancer patients. And that’s exactly the kind of caregivers they’ll find at Stratford General’s Chemo Unit: someone who brings all their skills, knowledge and compassion to work each day to give every patient their best chance of survival.
Nurse Kathy Blake joined Stratford’s chemo unit in June of 2017. But she’s not new to treating cancer – she’s been progressively training to strengthen her education, knowledge and experience to better care for cancer patients.
“I’m a big fan of life-long learning,” explains Kathy, a nurse for some 26 years and one of only a small handful of nurses in Canada to earn a de Sousa designation. “Cancer care is what I wanted to do and where I knew I could have impact, so I invested a lot of time and effort into becoming specialized in cancer care.”
But her pursuit of nursing excellence isn’t just academic – it’s also personal. Kathy’s husband was diagnosed with cancer before she started working at SGH’s chemo unit. “I had just started doing my training in London to be an oncology nurse in Wingham at that point,” she says. “There had been cancer in my family before, but not like my husband. That really brought it home.”
The experience reinforced Kathy’s commitment to the cause and her support for cancer care delivered close to home, saving patients the trip to London’s Regional Cancer Centre – a trip many find time consuming and exhausting.
“When patients have to travel to London, their day is often completely shot with traveling and waiting for their cancer treatment,” she says. “If you can offer that same quality of treatment closer to home, they still have part of their day left, and part of their life.”
While patients receive the best of care from committed staff, not every case ends with a cure – something that can be difficult for caregivers and other patients to deal with. And sometimes the aim is more subtle than a “cure” – extending the length of a patient’s life and controlling side effects for instance. “It’s very rewarding, even though it’s not always the outcome that people want,” she says. “But you can always give people hope and make the quality of the life they have the best it can be.”
But with the ever growing number of patients seeking chemo treatment in Stratford, shortcomings in the chemo unit are evident. While there are several smaller treatment and procedure spaces, the majority of patients are crowded into one cramped room, sitting shoulder to shoulder with other patients receiving their chemotherapy treatments.
Patients aren’t always very comfortable or forthcoming with information in such a crowded facility – particularly when the need for difficult conversations arise, says Kathy.
“We’ve outgrown our space and it’s getting busier and busier with more referrals. We’re always moving furniture and electrical cords around and trying not to trip,” she says. “It’s very crowded and there’s not a lot of privacy to gather information that can be embarrassing for patients. Our bathrooms are also not built in this era…we need something that’s wheelchair accessible and large enough for a helper.”
Lack of space also puts the squeeze on a support person – most often a family member or friend who keeps the patient company during the lengthy treatment visit. “I think sometimes the people that come to support the person receiving treatment feel that they’re in the way. We don’t want that,” she says.
Ideally, in addition to expanded room in a new Chemo Unit, Kathy would like to see some upgrades in equipment, and planning for the changing face of cancer care. Even today, many patients are not simply getting “chemotherapy”, but are increasingly receiving biotherapy and immunotherapy.
“Cancer care is going to be changing. It might look very different in 10 years from now, so it would be nice if that new unit can be designed to meet those needs down the road,” says Kathy. “There’s lots of exciting stuff on the way.”
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