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How a cancer diagnosis changed my life forever - an oncology nurse's story

In 2016, oncology nurse Beverley Rouse got the news she had been giving to patients. As the tables turned, Ms Rouse had first hand understanding of what cancer patients go through. 

In 2016, after 20 years in the field, oncology nurse Beverley Rouse got the news she had been giving to patients. As the tables turned, Ms Rouse had first hand understanding of what cancer patients go through. 

I have been an oncology nurse for 20 years and have sometimes wondered how I would react if I were told that I had cancer. In December 2015, I found out.

I had been admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis, only to be told I had what looked like a suspicious ovarian cyst. What followed was a barrage of tests, scans, biopsies and the dreaded results. That day my life changed forever.

I had a 10x12cm complex adnexal mass, with metastases in my lungs and my liver, as well as multiple lymph nodes from neck to groin, three areas in my pelvis, my sacrum and finally my right femur. As a divorcee, my first thought was for my two children, aged nine and 11. How was I going to tell them? I realised I had 6-12 months to live – if I was lucky. I couldn’t breathe and was blown away by the enormity of the situation. I cried my heart out – the impact of the news went far beyond my worst imaginings.

Continue as normal life as possible

I started chemotherapy in January 2016. I told my consultant that I would have whatever treatment necessary, but my one stipulation was that I have a portacath inserted. As a nurse, I knew the pros and cons of all the various central venous access devices, and I knew that I wanted to be able to bath and shower easily, to take my children swimming and have as normal a life as possible. By October 2016, I had scraped through ten cycles of chemotherapy and despite all the odds, my scans showed no evidence of active disease. My consultant had talked about keeping me on treatment long term as maintenance therapy to try and prevent the cancer coming back.

But I had also developed severe sciatica during treatment and I needed surgery to my spine so I had to stop chemotherapy.

Until recently, I have remained well physically – even the sciatica has gone. But my mental health is a different case altogether. Every ache or pain I get I feel terrified that I will relapse. I've lost the drive and confidence that I once had. I haven't been at work since I was first admitted to hospital and stopped nursing as advised by my consultant.

I have to learn to live with the fact that I will probably have appointments and scans for the rest of my life. The next stage is for a gynae-oncological surgeon to operate on me to remove the complex mass in my pelvis along with my right ovary and fallopian tube because it’s showing up as PET positive. This has reminded me how cancer can come back at any time.

'A cohesive and familiar nursing team can really take the stress away from vulnerable patients'

I absolutely loved my job, and although part of me thinks my experience could encourage and help patients, there’s a part of me that’s too scared to go back after having taking a break because of the cancer.

Familiar nursing team can take the stress away

I have received exemplary care from the NHS, but it was a shame that there were so many agency nurses being used in the chemotherapy unit. I was always glad to be treated by someone I knew and saw regularly. A cohesive and familiar nursing team can really take the stress away from vulnerable patients.

I found help from a variety of sources, such as counselling through the GP and after chemotherapy finished, I attended a six-week Moving On course run by specialist nurses where I also met a woman who runs the gynae cancer support group. I have joined cervical cancer Facebook groups, and most recently started sessions with a life coach through the local cancer centre.

I fully understand now what it is like to receive that news as a patient and hope that I can help to relay some of this back into the nursing profession, even if I don’t ever decide to provide hands-on nursing care again myself.


About the author

Beverley Rouse was an oncology nurse until 2016 – when she stopped working due to treatment

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