Liz Bradley is our onsite oncology nurse on the Live Better With Cancer Forum. She has been a registered nurse for over 25 years, working in a variety of specialist nurse roles, including breast and blood cancers. She currently manages a chemotherapy unit in Essex and cannot imagine doing anything else apart from oncology nursing!
Coupled with this, Liz is also a cancer survivor herself, having been diagnosed 18 years ago.
In this Q&A, Liz discusses what her role involves, shares top tips and talks about her personal experience with cancer.
Hi Liz! Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into oncology nursing? Why did you choose this speciality?
Hi everyone, hope you are all staying safe and well at this tough time.
I am a 46-year-old mum to 2 boys plus a slightly scatty rescue dog called Nellie and as you all know I am an oncology nurse. I have been nursing since 1992 which when added up makes that about 28 years’ worth – wow time flies ☺. I can still recall my very first day at nursing school. I trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and my best friend there lost her dad quite soon into our training to cancer. I supported her quite a lot at this time and I think it was then, that I realised I wanted to be an oncology nurse when I qualified.
After a couple of years, my late grandmother was diagnosed with blood cancer and she was being treated at our local hospital. She used to sing the praises of the oncology team there, saying how lovely the unit was and how they made her feel so special when she was having treatment.
It was then I knew that I wanted to work in this speciality for definite. I applied for a job in the chemo unit having never set foot in one before and the rest is history as I have stayed pretty much in this area of nursing ever since. I can still say I love it with as much passion as I did when I started.
How does a typical working day look like for you?
06.30 Get up and have the first cup of tea of the day. I am terrible for drinking tea and usually by midday have had about 4 cups. I have moved onto decaf in the hope it is better for me!
07.00 Get the boys up and sorted for their morning. Now, like any normal family, this part of the day isn’t always as successful as I would like it to be. Arguments over who is going in the shower first and who is going to feed the dog usually take place here ☺.
07.45 Second cup of tea on the go at work. Meet the rest of the nursing team and check in to make sure they are all okay. Sort out patient notes for the day and make sure we have all equipment in place to treat our first patients.
09.00 Patients for chemotherapy treatment start arriving and we settle them into comfy recliners to get them prepared. Offer tea of course and then some will need cannulas placed into their hands and some have implantable ports in which means we do not have to stab them with a needle each time. This makes treatment far easier to administer.
12.30 Time to grab a quick lunch – I always seem to have this at my desk catching up on emails...
16.00 Usual home time and off to collect my youngest son from the after school club.
17.00 Time for a dog walk – I find this helps me switch off from work.
19.00 After cooking dinner and helping them with homework, I settle down with the boys for some television and cuddle time, once they are in bed then I usually do some more mummy chores before flopping back on the sofa with music on ☺.
What 3 words would you use to describe your job?
Supportive, empathetic, motivating.
You were diagnosed with cancer 18 years ago. Did you find any practical things that helped with side effects and living with cancer and made life a little easier to bear?
Being diagnosed with cancer when I was 29 was a total life changer for me. I had only been with my now husband for 6 months before I was diagnosed so as well as having to deal with a diagnosis, I also had to cope with the thought that my boyfriend at the time was going to have to be stuck with me.
I had the most amazing oncologist – she was an angel in disguise. As well as making sure that physically my cancer was being dealt with, she also made sure that psychologically both my boyfriend and I were cared for. Sadly cancer treatment left me infertile but she arranged for counselling to kick in to help cope with this.
During chemo and radiotherapy my main issue was nausea and the most awful diarrhoea ☹. Bear in mind this was 18 years ago so we did not have such great anti-sickness drugs to cope with this as we do now. I found fresh ginger was very helpful and ate packets of ginger nuts after treatment days – I now cannot stand them!
Never be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. I found some of my friends didn't know what to say to me and actually stayed away which I found difficult. However, some were amazing and I can recall one in particular who was a nursing work colleague - she sent me a lovely present, which was a cosy blanket and some foot cream. Having a reflexology foot massage or using essential oils also helped ease symptoms caused by treatment and I would recommend this to everyone to try.
Combining both your professional and personal experience with cancer, what advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed?
Being diagnosed with cancer hits anyone from a great height. However, having worked in this profession and also having had my own experience of coming out the other side, I would just say to others, take each day as it comes. Try not to focus too far ahead. Sometimes the clinical plan has to change for you and so focusing too far ahead can lead to confusion and clouded judgement. Taking time out for self-care is also very important.
Finish the sentence!
The most challenging part of being an oncology nurse is…keeping up to date with the ever changing landscape of drug developments.
Oncology nursing has taught me that...life is not to be taken for granted and each day is a gift.
The one thing on my mind at work is...focusing on supporting my patients through their cancer treatment.
The 3 key questions to ask at your first oncology appointment are…
- Please can you explain why I need to have cancer treatment including the benefits it will give me?
- Please can you explain what cancer treatment I will be having, how it will be given to me and for how long?
- Please can you talk me through side effects I need to be mindful of?
The one thing everyone living with or caring for a loved one with cancer should know is...
'I’m here if you need to talk.' Saying this can help create an environment where your loved one feels comfortable and able to express themselves without judgment. People living with cancer often talk about their cancer because others ask. Allowing your loved one to bring it up themselves will allow conversations about their diagnosis to happen on their terms instead.
If you need any support please do contact me here.
Stay well everyone,