Communication is one of the biggest obstacles oncology patients and their caregivers face. Medical terminology, ever-evolving procedures, the never-ending prescription list and varied treatment options weigh heavily on an already-stressed mind. They need a cancer interpreter. They also need a comforting presence to walk with them through this uncertain future.
Luckily for oncology patients, Monica Cross - LS '02, Oncology Certified Research Nurse at Mercy Hospital, possesses both qualities. And they have her grandmother to thank for her career choice.
“My grandma always said that I would make a great nurse,” said Cross. “I didn’t believe her at the time. I was afraid to hurt people, and my only idea of what nurses did was to give shots and IVs. And that, in my experience, was causing pain, not comfort or healing.”
With that in mind, Cross went to college and received a degree in communications, but she was drawn back to the idea of nursing when she worked for an orthopedic surgeon as a medical assistant. She found she enjoyed helping people get back their quality of life, so she decided to go to nursing school after all. While in school, she worked on the oncology floor as a hospital tech to help with tuition reimbursement and gain valuable experience.
Oncology has been her specialty ever since. “While working on the oncology floor, I found that I was capable and comfortable making the connection with patients going through their fight with cancer,” said Cross. “I enjoyed getting to know patients and their families and helping them during their time in the hospital, which for most of them is at their sickest.”
A RESEARCH ROLE
With a desire to learn more about both the diseases her patients were living with as well as the rapidly evolving treatment options, Cross joined the Mercy Research team after eight years on the oncology floor. In this leadership role, she explores best practices and educates other departments in the cancer center about clinical trial opportunities. She then works closely with patients who could benefit from a clinical trial.
Cross says her communication skills have been her biggest accomplishment to date. It’s true that collaborating among departments, doctors and patients requires a skilled and organized communicator, but it also requires a comforting patient advocate. Cross’ supervisor, Stephanie Sekscinski, explains Cross’ patient-first approach: “Monica is first an advocate for those patients’ wishes. She sat in an exam room with a patient and his wife for over an hour explaining a possible clinical trial opportunity and answering every question the patient had about [participation]. After working closely with the patient, his family and his team of physicians, the patient confidently agreed to participate in the clinical trial. It is this same patient-centered approach that has allowed Monica to form relationships with so many patients who trust her to advocate for them.”
It makes no difference if Cross is involved in direct care or in a research role, her grandma remains at the forefront of her nursing philosophy. “I think of how I would want [my grandma] cared for,” she said. And I want to make sure that my patients are knowledgeable about the care they are getting. If it is a chemo infusion, I tell them what to expect. If it is a test or procedure, I try to help them understand what to expect. There is so much in their life that they are not in control of — I figure knowing what to expect helps even in the smallest way.”
This article was originally published on stltoday.com