My story began on the 7th of September 2015, when I was admitted to The Alfred, Ward 7East Haematology Oncology to begin chemotherapy for an unusual presentation of AML (Acute Myeloid Leukaemia). At 22, this diagnosis felt surreal, despite feeling quiet fatigued, I felt I was too young and healthy to have a ‘cancer’ diagnosis. That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Cancer does not discriminate.
I had a stereotyped image in my mind about how a person who has cancer should look and feel. After being admitted as an in-patient, I very quickly learned that this image was somewhat wrong. Yes, there were people who were very sick, but there were also people who despite their diagnosis remained strong and optimistic.
Shortly after I was admitted, I was introduced by my nurse to Skye (18) also an AML patient. Skye is bright, bubbly and oozes positivity. She almost instantly calmed my apprehension and fear of the unknown. Being able to speak with a like-minded patient of similar age really helped me. We both spent over 3 months as in-patients on the ward over a 6 month period of treatment.
We decorated our room with photos, cards and feel-good quotes stuck to the walls, with perfumed reeds, dreamcatchers and elephants with their trunks up for good luck. Pillows and colourful blankets brightened the room, as did the fake flowers (As real flowers are a health risk to immune compromised patients). As you could imagine, we created a positive atmosphere which really helped us get through our treatment.
Despite being confined to the oncology ward, we managed to make the best of a difficult situation. I particularly remember Halloween, when we put makeup on our faces, complete with black eyes and Frankenstein stitches. We draped ourselves in sheets and dragged our IV poles behind us, spooking the nursing staff around the ward. The best part was the unplanned scare our night nurse got when he came on duty later that night and checked on us asleep in our makeup!
The nurses, dietitians, occupational therapists, social workers, orderlies, pastoral care workers, general hospital staff and of course the doctors themselves were absolutely brilliant. I was treated with respect and dignity, and I always felt I was in safe hands.
The positive attitudes, professionalism, support and quality of care given to me are qualities to which I aspire in my future profession as a registered nurse. I feel inspired, and feel the nursing staff set an excellent example of the attributes a great nurse should have.
So please get behind The Alfred hospital’s ‘Dry July’ appeal and help the hospital make spaces a little brighter and more comfortable for those undergoing cancer treatments and their families.
Rochelle Gengaroli (Former patient, 5 months remission).