The rewards of cancer care

by Katherine Bannon

Three years in a role was usually enough for Ann Brady and then she’d start seeking out a new challenge. But that all changed when she became a Marie Curie Nurse 14 years ago. Now she is confident that only retirement will force her to say goodbye to “the most rewarding job” she’s ever had - and, given that she’s worked from the Midlands to the Middle East, she’s got a fair few positions from which to pick her favourite. “I can’t see myself retiring very soon. I continue to find every shift challenging and it still feels like I’ve got a lot to give,” says Ms Brady. However, palliative care hadn’t always been at the forefront of her nursing experience. She originally did general nurse training then studied midwifery, so she has moved right from the start to the finish of life’s journey. “There’s the excitement of a baby being born and joining a family at one end and then preparing for the time when someone is going to leave a family at the other,” she says. In her current role she believes she has the time to offer patients the care and support they need, which she finds extremely rewarding. She may not be able to change the diagnosis but she can help them come to terms with what is happening and prepare family members. “It’s always sad that someone is dying but, by helping them come to terms with it, they can move on and carry on enjoying living the life that they have,” she says. “They say that you arrive at someone’s house as a stranger but leave as a friend. Patients are very trusting of us. Yes we’re nurses in uniform and they know we’re professional people but they’re not afraid to tell us things they’re worried about that they might not feel able to tell their families. Often you work as a mediator between the two.” One patient of Ms Brady’s struggled to communicate his wishes for his funeral with his family. Understandably, they didn’t want to talk to him about it and told him not to worry. But he did worry. He wanted to be able to pick the hearse and choose what hymns would be played. So he asked Ms Brady to help him write down what he wanted in a list. “As a discussion it would have been extremely emotional but, by putting it together in a list, it made the process more formalised. The family could concentrate on the list rather than the emotions and then they were able to fulfil the gentleman’s wishes. I feel my presence as a Marie Curie nurse helped the family to achieve what they needed.” It takes a particular type of person to be able to effectively care for those who are at the end of their life. Ms Brady attributes her ability to do so to her upbringing. “I’m lucky to have been born and brought up in Ireland. Death isn’t a taboo subject there like it is here. People acknowledge that they’re going to die. “As youngsters we were never shielded from the sick and the dying. We’d regularly visit poorly neighbours to pay our respects. It was a privilege to look after someone.” When she was around nine years old Ms Brady would regularly visit a sick family friend with her father. His daughter-in-law was the main carer but she still remembers the rota of neighbours, friends and family members that would take it in turns to look after him. Despite these early experiences, however, nursing was never her number-one career choice. “I always wanted to be a home economics teacher,” she explains. She then did a brief stint in an office job - which only made her realise that that wasn’t her calling either. So she was persuaded to follow in her older sister’s nursing footsteps. Ms Brady and her sister also have a few cousins who are nurses but when asked if this was a unique family trait, she laughs. “I don’t think I know a single family in Ireland that doesn’t have a nurse in it!” This post first appeared on on Thursday March 14.