All ONS Member Community

Expand all | Collapse all

Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

  • 1.  Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-06-2019 18:53
    Hi Everyone, 

    I am a nursing student who is currently working as a PCT on an inpatient hemotology/oncology floor in an amazing hospital. I sought on this speciality after seeing the impact my moms oncology nurses have had on her since being diagnosed with cancer almost 2 years ago. Although I love my job, the patients, and the work I am doing, some days I cannot help but think of my mom being in my patients positions which can be upsetting. I am wondering if anyone has any experience in working in oncology with loved ones currently diagnosed with cancer or who have passed away. Do you have any advice on dealing with your personal feelings? Through all my clinical rotations, I still am drawn back to oncology and feel as though I belong here. I am just nervous of personal factors that may prove to be too much. Thank you in advance! 


  • 2.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-07-2019 03:13
    Hello Sarah,
    Sorry to hear that your mom was diagnosed with cancer and wish her a fast recovery and cure.

    I did not live such experience, but I know from my work place that some nurses joined oncology and wanted to be specialized in this great specialty because of a relative or a beloved one was diagnosed with cancer. They usually say that we understand it better, so we can discuss it better, support them better, during diagnosis and treatment time.

    when they face difficulties, and need psychological support, they always find someone [like a colleague] to talk to or an expert in the field like a psychologist, spiritual therapist before they show their frustrations to their beloved ones. they find this practice as a relief in difficult situations.

    Hope other experiences give you some ideas, and again I wish your mother a fast recovery and cure..

    Qasem Alnasr RN BSN MSN
    Education Coordinator
    King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre

  • 3.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-08-2019 14:00
    @Sarah McCluskey,

    Hi Sarah,
    I'm sorry to hear about your mom.  Like many oncology nurses, my pursuit of oncology nursing was from my experience of taking care of her when I was 14 yrs old for breast cancer and again when I was 24 yrs old for ovarian cancer.  She passed away 12yrs ago and I still miss her dearly.

    One of the benefits of oncology is the many specialty areas of practice.  If inpatient oncology is not for you, you may consider radiation oncology, outpatient oncology infusion, pediatric oncology, stem cell transplant, or clinical trials.  I have spent most of my career in oncology clinical research.  I have enjoyed combining my passion for oncology with being part of the solution to prevent and cure cancer.  In clinical trial nursing I felt I had increased quality time with the patients and their families versus running like crazy on the oncology floor (Stem Cell/Oncology ICU) or outpatient infusion.  I'd be happy to share my experiences with you.

    Also, my employer highlighted my experience with my mom and impact on my nursing career for breast cancer month.  Here is the link on LinkedIN.

    All my best,

    Molly Downhour, MHA BSN NEA-BC OCN CCRC
    Executive Director Clinical Research
    Cell:  480-518-7655
    7135 E. Camelback, Suite 205, Scottsdale,  AZ 85258
    Facebook icon LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Youtube icon Instagram icon


    This email may contain confidential and privileged material for the sole use of the intended recipient(s). Any review, use, distribution or disclosure by others is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient (or authorized to receive for the recipient), please contact the sender by reply email and delete all copies of this message.

  • 4.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-07-2019 06:34
    Hi Sarah,
    I think its wonderful that you have a goal to work in oncology. You will find that many oncology nurses have a history of personal experiences with a family member who had cancer. I recommend you continue your education and working as a PCT.  You are grieving your mom which is expected and because of your experience you will be an incredible compassionate advocate for your pts. After working many yrs as a critical care nurse, I became an oncology NP after losing my son to leukemia. I was in the NP program while he was sick and after his passing I knew what I must do to help others as well as myself. That was 22 yrs ago. Now I lost my husband to a brain tumor 2 yrs ago. It is my work that keeps me functioning every day.
    I wish you the best of luck, you will make an  incredible oncology nurse.
    My sincere condolences on the loss of your mom,

    Admin. & Clinical Director 
    Infusion Center 
    Englewood Heath
    Englewood, NJ 07631

  • 5.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-07-2019 06:45
    Dear Sarah,
    I have been an Oncology Nurse for 30 plus years and teach Oncology at the Community College Level.  My mom was treated for Lung Cancer and ultimately died from disease 18 years ago.  I would love to talk to you you about this issue off line.  My e mail address is
    Looking forward to being in contact.

    Carol Blecher RN MS CBCN
    Advanced Practice Nurse/Clinical Educator
    Richboro PA

  • 6.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-07-2019 07:50
    ​Hi Sarah;  I do not have any personal experience with loved ones having cancer but I just wanted to share a thought with you.  I can't even begin to imagine what it's like thinking of your mom being in your patient's position.  I have no advice on how to get past that, but I believe that if you can find a way to separate the pain from the compassion, thinking of your mom is something that is going to make you a great nurse.  Yes you need to have the training and knowledge to be a great nurse, but that compassion and empathy cannot be taught, it has to come from within.  Good luck to you Sarah and whatever direction you decide to take in your future.

    Tammy Clarke RN MS
    Oncology Care Outcomes Manager
    University of Rochester Cancer Center
    Rochester NY

  • 7.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-07-2019 10:38
    Hi Sarah,
    I've been an Oncology Nurse for 25 years. My mother had lung cancer and I card for her and learned a lot about what patients need when undergoing treatment, and that is what inspired me to change to Oncology from Critical Care. 21 years later, my husband was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a difficult cancer to treat. He and I both felt that ​it was a great asset for us to have knowledge and contacts that helped him through his cancer journey. It will always be emotionally taxing, but knowing that we are in a position to truly help in many different ways, for me, it only added to the satisfaction of knowing I could advocate for my husband in ways I wasn't otherwise able. It also gives me a greater sense of empathy for the patients and their families that I care for now in the clinic. My husband passed away almost a year ago, and I still love my job, and am now considering joining the Palliative Care Team forming at our hospital. I wish you the very best, Sarah; oncology nursing is a calling not all are able to follow. May you choose well.
    Nancy Barber, RN, OCN

    Nancy Barber RN
    Albany NH

  • 8.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-07-2019 21:45
    Hi Sarah,
    My father passed away from head and neck cancer while I was in nursing school and my husband is a cancer survivor.  I've been an oncology nurse practitioner for 22 years and my experience is that because of having lost someone to cancer or having a family member who is a cancer survivor, you tend to have a kinship with your oncology patients and their caregivers because you have walked in their shoes.  It doesn't mean that you have more empathy or compassion for your patients than others, it just means that you view oncology nursing from a different lens.  To me, I am paying it forward for the wonderful care that my father and husband received from their oncology nurses.

    I hope this helps you to continue to pursue oncology nursing as your specialty.

    F. Diane Barber PhD ANP-BC AOCNP
    MD Anderson Cancer Center
    Richmond TX

  • 9.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-08-2019 09:33
    You answered your own question! You feel drawn to Oncology- you have an inside scoop and you know what matters to the patients.  I think that is what give you an obvious edge for this specialty.  Yes, you have to learn to guard your heart.  I learned that the hard way.  Each patient cared for and lost takes a little piece of you, some very large pieces.  You ​have to find the balance of giving, yet protecting yourself.  Meditation, prayers, etc.  Even some sort of intentional small action (ceremony type?) like thoughtfully washing your hands before leaving work, reflecting on all the good you did that day, and washing away any hurt or pain, to not take it home or dwell further on it.  I have found it helpful to be intentional on acknowledging the situations that upset me, and imagining the image in a bubble to float away.  If there is more to do in relation to that situation, it will be there tomorrow.  If not, know you've done your best and let it float.

    It takes practice, and is not always simple.  Knowing what you know almost seems to make you more vulnerable as well as more skillful in the caring arena.  The best of luck to you in your bright future!!!

    Sandra Schilli

  • 10.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 05:34
     Hi  Sarah McCluskey
    Subject: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

     I work in a great hospital oncology, hematology, BMT. I have been working for 25 years now and oncology is all I know. My mom was diagnosed with Breast cancer and is doing fine. My life time partner of 38 years, was diagnosed with Bladder cancer this past May. It has taken a toll on me because I care for both then I go to work and do the same.

    Before, all this . I would go to work and leave work behind. Now I feel like work follows me everyday. I go to work, then follow up appointments with my partner for his treatments. I am emotionally overwhelmed and I feel  it taking its' toll on me. I have cried alone trying to cope bestway I can. I find myself in a fog, waiting to wake up from this nightmare. I find my eyes water up because its very difficult to work and care for your own family.  I find  prayer helps. I find continuing to go to the gym helps.
    I pray and have strong faith.
    Prayer and find time for yourself Sarah.

    Marvin Barrientos
    Staff Nurse
    Watertown MA

  • 11.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 09:07
    Sandra, what a beautiful, thoughtful answer. Wisdom we can all use - whatever our specialty given our 'window' to  human suffering.

    Sue Martin ARNP
    Mitchell NE

  • 12.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 09:44
    Thank you so much. I didn't mean to come across gloom and doom; just realistic.  23 years under my belt in Oncology in a rural community, and have been personal caregiver and experienced tragic losses to cancer of close family and friends too. And, of course I am passionate about what I can do for my patients and always recognize what I gain and learn from my relationships with them and their families. But to believe repeated losses can't effect me is not realistic in my world.  If someone can experience repeated loss on several levels and come out completely unscathed, kudos to them!  Personally, finding a balance and a coping mechanism is key for me to staying up on my game! I would never call what we do a burden.  It's a blessing and a calling and I'm so proud to be counted amongst you amazing women and men! Thank you again for your kind reply, Sue!   ​

    Sandra Schilli

  • 13.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-10-2019 10:29
    Excellent advice Sarah!  Self-care is a must in oncology! Mother Nature is very healing so I would suggest time outside too!  Good Luck and enjoy!  It a privilege to care for those with cancer.

    Rose Wolfe RN, BSN, OCN, HTCP
    Nurse Navigator
    Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
    Baltimore Maryland
    443 509 5473

  • 14.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-10-2019 10:30
    I am sorry I meant to say Sandra

    Rose Wolfe RN, BSN, OCN, HTCP
    Nurse Navigator
    Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
    Baltimore Maryland
    443 509 5473

  • 15.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-08-2019 11:20
    Hi Sarah,
    I'm so glad you posted. I think there are lots of nurses who may have similar feelings. I've been in oncology 20+ years...I've had multiple family members diagnosed with cancer from the time I was 13yrs old - last year. My personal experience is what drew me to oncology so long ago. We lost my Aunt 1 month after diagnosis of AML several years back. Each family member of mine has a different story, just like our patients. Last year, my dad was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer as a result of his service in Vietnam. I was with him when he was told he had cancer, at nearly all of his appointments, explained things to him and all of our family members. We unfortunately lost him nearly a year ago after just 8 months of treatment. So I can certainly relate to the personal feelings with work. Like you, I have seen the impact their oncology caregivers had in their lives. I know and feel the impact I make in my patients' & caregivers lives. My passion for oncology and desire to stay in it is about that impact. Oncology patients deserve and need compassionate nurses taking care of them. I have worked in inpatient & outpatient settings. I can honestly say I've never experienced burnout. Certainly I've had plenty of "bad" days. I have attended more funerals and held more hands as patients have left this world than I can count. But I've learned from every single one. I definitely don't see it as a burden....I don't feel like I'm losing a piece of myself or my heart when I lose my patient at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's all in gratitude. Grateful that I had the privilege to know them and be part of their care and ease their fears at the scariest/hardest time in their life. I think about my patient...I think about what I learned from my time with them. This may be something about their disease. It could be that they didn't understand something that we routinely describe in the same I learn to find a new way to explain things that makes sense to them. So many things.. so I'm never losing part of me...I don't feel depleted. I feel filled up. I'm gaining from my patients. They're giving me a piece of take with incorporate in my life/ incorporate in my care or education for future patients. Our patients' gifts to us are abundant. I encourage you to consider this perspective. But what I feel like you're really describing above is your fear. Your fear of "knowing to much" that you can't "un-know" what could happen to your mom. To me, it sounds like fear of recurrence in your mom's cancer. Those feelings are very different things....and very real. I know this is a super-long reply already, but I'd be happy to chat with you outside of the forum if you'd like. Those feelings can be worked through...and should be worked through whether you stay in oncology or not...there are strategies specific to that fear which can also help if your mom is struggling with the same feelings, as many cancer patients do. Your heart sure sounds like it's drawn to oncology for a reason. You just need to work through those feelings of fear. You can message me if you like.

    Jill Weberding MPH BSN RN OCN
    Oncology Nurse Consultant
    Batesville IN

  • 16.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 09:04
    Sarah, your post hits home to many of us. I began my oncology journey 35 years ago and at that time had little personal experience with family members and cancer. I then transitioned to palliative care in a certified home health agency taking care of cancer patients at home. It wasn’t until much later when my younger sister was diagnosed with a terminal cancer that the work became a challenge for me. At that time I pulled back a bit and focused my energies in other areas. Now I’m back doing this wonderful work after that hiatus and couldn’t be happier and more professionally satisfied. And as I look back, I’ve come to realize that the career and specialty that I thought I chose, actually chose me. For without the wisdom I acquired from my patients and colleagues, I would never have been able to give the best care to my sister and our family. I wish you all the best as you embark on your professional and personal journey. You won’t regret it.

    Barbara Kramer, MSN RN CHPN
    NYU Winthrop Hospital Home Care

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 17.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 09:58
    Barbara; for me it was the loss of a dear sister too that threw me off kilter. I took a leave to care for her.  She left behind a sweet husband, a 5 year old son and an 18 month old baby girl that she had prayed for, for years.  ​I love how you said the career chose you!  It's like this was what we were made for!  The groundwork for you to be an amazing caregiver to all these precious people was laid early!  The depth of wisdom and knowledge gained from the deep, personal experiences is priceless. Sarah McCluske, I feel certain you will find this to be true.  As Barbara K. said, you will not regret it.

    Sandra Schilli

  • 18.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 12:11
    ​Hi Sarah,

    If your heart is drawing you to oncology, follow it.  I had been working as an oncology nurse for many years when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  After a valiant 3 year battle, she lost the fight which was devastating.  During the immediate period after her death, I was not able to face patients and was fortunate enough to be able to work briefly in a position that didn't involve pt care.  While my mom was sick, I found that my current situation helped me to relate to pts/families in a way that I hadn't before which was helpful for all involved.  While I didn't burden pts with my situation, some knew what I was going through and were incredibly supportive.  I think it was therapeutic for them to know that their caregiver was not immune to what they were going through.  Were there days that harder than others?  Absolutely, but not once did I ever consider leaving oncology nursing.  Another thing that is helpful is to talk with a therapist who can help you navigate those feelings.  I hope this helps you, good luck with your mom and what ever path you take.


    Mary Schumann RN MA AOCN OCN
    Clinical Nurse IV
    Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
    Yonkers NY

  • 19.  RE: Student Nurse Needs Advice On Oncology Speciality

    Posted 10-09-2019 12:26

    Good Afternoon Everyone, 

    I just need to start off by saying thank you. It has taken me a couple of days to read through your replies and I have been blown away by the support and kind words. To give some background, my mom is currently doing well and living with stage IV breast cancer and we take the good days with the bad. I do wholeheartedly agree that my knowledge and experience working with cancer patients offers insight and relief to my mom - she even tells me that sometimes I give her more information than her own doctors do. I appreciate every single one of your replies and I truly did resonate with each one. While there are days that can get us down working in oncology, they are outnumbered by the days that can bring inspiration and compassion. I am confident that oncology is the place for me and it is comforting to know that there are many people that have been in or are currently in my position. I want to thank everyone once again and it brings me pride to be in a speciality with such amazing people. 

    Sarah McCluskey
    Student Nurse
    Baltimore MD