Education and information for cancer patients and their families

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Published: 13 Dec 2011
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Dr Margaret Fitch - Odette Cancer Centre, Toronto, Canada

Dr Margaret Fitch explains the important role oncology nurses have to play providing information to cancer patients and their families. A good level of understanding is key for nurses trying to help patients and their families realise what to expect, to plan their lives and manage their home situation. In order to do this effectively it is important that nurses know what information patients need, understand the patient’s perspective and have the skills necessary to communicate with a range of different people. 

AORTIC 2011, Cairo, Egypt 30 November–2 December 2011


Education and information for cancer patients and their families


Dr Margaret Fitch – Odette Cancer Centre, Toronto, Canada


Today we were focussing on oncology nursing and, in particular, looking at the role that oncology nurses can play in relation to patient education and family education, recognising that cancer itself has a huge impact and there are social, emotional, practical, informational concerns that patients have. Patients have told us over and over again, the more information they have, the more support they have, the more communication they have with their healthcare providers, it helps them cope, it helps them anticipate what’s coming, helps them get ready and manage better with the symptoms, with the side effects that they might be having, with planning, in terms of their lives. So that role around teaching, around helping patients learn what they need to learn is a critically important one.


What specifics can you suggest for cancer nurses in these situations?


First and foremost I think cancer nurses need to prepare themselves so that they have the knowledge they can then pass on. Then, to develop their skills in terms of, first and foremost, understanding the patient’s perspective, what the patient is actually experiencing, feeling, is concerned about. And then to engage in a dialogue with the individuals to help that person learn what they need to learn to manage in their home situation. Home situations are going to be widely varied, the kinds of things that help one person will not necessarily help the next. So it’s very much a tailoring of the information for the person and the family in order to help them manage.


What kind of support is provided for families?


Unfortunately, they can be left behind and the focus can be exclusively on the patient, the person who actually has the illness. Sometimes the family members can be left out of conversations, they may not receive some of the information that would be helpful to them, but they’re experiencing just as much of an impact when they have someone in their family who is diagnosed with a disease like cancer. It affects all the family members as well, they’re dealing with distress, they’re dealing with emotional reactions, so they too need to be part of the dialogue, part of the conversation about what’s going to make a difference in helping them manage.