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Oncology Nursing Day: BC Cancer nurses reflect on 20 years

April 2, 2019 marks the 16th anniversary of Oncology Nursing Day across Canada.
BC Cancer nurses reflect on 20 years for Oncology Nursing Day
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​L-R: Debbie Caleca, Joy Bunsko, and Jennifer Finck

Oncology nurses at BC Cancer have a profound impact on patient care. They deliver unwavering support, compassion and care to patients and their families every day. They are the front lines of cancer treatment, treatment that has been advanced and refined in immeasurable ways since BC Cancer’s first treatment centre opened in 1938. 

This year, we want to highlight the great work all our nurses do and feature some of our longest-tenured nurses from across the province to learn about how oncology nursing has changed over the years and what keeps these nurses as passionate today as they were when they first started their careers at BC Cancer.    

Jennifer Finck, general duty RN at BC Cancer – Victoria (Vancouver General Hospital - School of Nursing 1990) has been a nurse for 29 years, 25 of them BC Cancer. When she graduated from nursing school, Jennifer had no intention of working in oncology. As a survivor of childhood cancer, she was eager to help patients but thought caring for people with cancer would bring up too many memories.  After taking an oncology rotation at school, she couldn’t imagine working in any other field and says the advancements in care have been transformative. “When I first began nursing, cancer treatment was synonymous with extreme nausea, weight loss, pain and debilitating fatigue.” Today people are more able to live with cancer and manage symptoms better than ever before. At the end of the day she says “the feeling of touching someone else’s life in a meaningful way is something that I take home with me every day. If I can make one patient’s day a bit brighter then I feel that I am on the right path.”  

Surrey centre’s clinical service manager Joy Bunsko (UBC – Nursing 1991) was among the first to write the Canadian Nurses Association Oncology Certification exam in 1997. She has been a nurse for 28 years, with almost all that time at BC Cancer. She too notes how far patient care and treatment has come. “Back when I started… we only had a limited arsenal of drugs. Today patients can be offered many lines of treatment.” When she took oncology as an elective in her nursing program, she says there were only 14 other students in her class. Today, she feels privileged to work with cancer patients. “Being able to work with patients and their families at all the transition points they face is hugely rewarding.  I've always been very proud to say I work at BC Cancer.”

Oncology nurse Debbie Caleca (BCIT – Nursing 1991), has been with BC Cancer - Vancouver since 1999. Over her 20 years, she’s noticed that care is much more patient-centred and no longer solely focused on therapies and cancer needs. “There are many more support systems in place now than there were 20 years ago, that’s for sure” she says, “it’s not just the chemotherapy.” BC Cancer care is comprised not only of oncology nurses, but includes nutrition services, patient and family counselling, speech-language pathology and interpreters to name a few. She notes that cancer treatments today are much more complex than they used to be because care has become more personalized. It's no longer a 'one size fits all' model of treatment, each person is unique and so are their care and treatment options. Debbie says she gains a lot of strength from her patients, “they have such an amazing attitude towards life.” Her advice for young nurses and those considering a career in nursing? “Learn to organize, and re-organize! Things can change quickly! Stay focused and listen to your patients.”

Kris Trevillion at BC Cancer – Surrey has been a RN since 1986, 31 years of which have been spent at BC Cancer. Over the course of three decades she says, “you name it – it’s changed! Systemic therapy, better anti-nausea drugs and sophisticated radiation delivery techniques - everything has changed for the better.” Kris was new to oncology when she first began with the ‘Cancer Control Agency of BC’ but it was a supportive group of colleagues that had her feeling like she was home – and still does. “I work with some amazing people- we support each other through the tough moments. Hugs, laughter and a few tears.” In addition to a compassionate network of colleagues, she finds working with patients incredibly rewarding. “With all the changes and challenges they can be faced, in what is often the most difficult time in their lives – their hope and strength and appreciation of care is bottomless – it’s inspirational.” 

Oncology Nursing Day was developed by The Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology (CANO)

BC Cancer
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