Published on January 04, 2019

Mary Fitzgibbon

What an Oncology Nurse Wants You to Know About Cancer

This story is part of a series in which Avera nurses and other care team members share their perspectives on the cancer journey and how they keep patients at the center of everything they do.

Mary Fitzgibbon, RN, is a staff nurse with Avera Medical Group Gynecologic Oncology. The 57-year-old began working in care settings as early as age 14, and has worked as a cancer care nurse for 11 years.

Here are some things she wants every patient to know about cancer.

Cancer does not define who you are. When you hear the word cancer, it throws your life into a tailspin, and your mind goes 100 miles per hour. You stop thinking clearly.

I have had cancer, and I understand how overwhelming everything is. I have met so many people overwhelmed with a new diagnosis. Remember: this is a chapter in your life, not who you are. You’re still a mom or a dad or a husband or an artist or a welder – don’t let the disease take over. We’ll be by your side to help you remember that you still are the special person you are.

The Prairie Center is a safe place. From the front door and our valet service to every person who works here – it is OK to feel what you’re feeling. You may feel the pain of the fear, and you may sorry for yourself. That’s just fine – let the tears out. Many times people feel better once they get some of that out, and many folks feel ready to do what they need to once they have released some emotion. It’s also just fine to speak up, or to express your frustration. That’s why I’m here – why we all are here – to be ready to help you. So ask for our help – from anyone from valets to front desk to doctors. We want to provide it.

Bring all your questions – every single one. Don’t leave anything out and don’t be afraid to talk about anything, from side effects that may seem personal to financial questions about insurance. There are no topics that are off limits – we are here to lower your stress level and answer your every question with good information that can help dispel fears and worries.

Building trust takes time. Patients who are “doing it for their family” come to see us every day, and they might not want to talk because the fear – or in some cases the anger – is firmly in place. They let the family members do the talking. This is totally natural, and we understand you may need some time to build the trust in your team. The unknowns of this disease are the scariest – and that’s why we try to help you with information, reassurance and a complete explanation of the plan for treatment.

We want your care to be the best it possibly can. Your first appointment may take some time, but we’ll want to understand the best way to approach your surgery or treatment. That first appointment can be lengthy – sometimes one to two hours – but it’s critical for us to review everything, and we want you to know what to expect. Sometimes people think their first visit will include surgery – that’s extremely rare. And while that first visit can be a longer duration, the second one is usually shorter.

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