Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer
This Thanksgiving weekend, most of us have probably said thank you to someone who has helped us on our cancer journey. I hope you had a nurse high on your list. Oncology nurses are special people who deserve our gratitude.
Jan Watkins, Oncology Program Coordinator at Liberty Hospital in Liberty, Missouri, exemplifies the profession. I met her after I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) in 1998. She led the hospital support group I joined after my diagnosis. Because my form of breast cancer was rare and my treatment plan differed from the usual treatment, I had many questions that I couldn’t process in the time allotted with the surgeon and oncologist. Jan took the time to discuss those issues with me. When she didn’t know the answer, she did the research and found out for me.
According to the hospital’s website, the Oncology Program Coordinator is “an oncology-certified registered nurse who promotes quality nursing care, patient and staff education, and serves as a liaison between the patient and health care team,” but I have never forgotten Jan’s willingness to be a hands-on nurse as well. After my mastectomy, when she came to see me in my hospital room, I was still nauseated by the anesthesia. Jan held me while I vomited, and then got me cleaned up with the calm competence that good nurses have.
I’ve kept in touch with Jan over the years. Recently I called her to get information about choosing a hospital when you have cancer. We had a long chat, and I learned more about what makes Jan such a special person. Jan, who grew up in Connecticut, wanted to be a nurse from the time she was a little girl. When I asked her why she became an oncology nurse, she said, “From the beginning of my career, the oncology patients stood out in my memory. I saw the strengths and courage that cancer patients exhibit. It’s just a heart piece, I guess.”
When Jan moved to Missouri and joined the staff at Liberty Hospital, there were few special programs for cancer patients. In the 23 years that Jan has been at the hospital, Liberty Hospital has developed an outpatient clinic and an accredited oncology program. They have added The Cancer Rehabilitation Education, and Support program (CARES) that includes exercise program to build up stamina and nutritional support with a dietician. Recently the hospital added a palliative care program for family and patient support that includes assistance at home and pain control for patients with any life-limiting disease such as cancer, emphysema and heart disease. Unlike Hospice, which provides end of life care, patients in the palliative care program can still receive chemo or other treatments. “Patients and families just love it,” says Jan.
Sometimes when cancer patients are first diagnosed, family and friends urge them to go to the biggest, most world-renowned research clinic. I asked Jan about how to make the decision about where to be treated. She said, “The most important thing is being comfortable with your oncologist.” She also recommended that patients look for a hospital with an oncology program accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.
To receive this accreditation a hospital must have a multi-disciplinary approach to cancer treatment and be evaluated every three years. The Commission on Cancer (CoC) website describes their Approvals Program this way. The program “encourages hospitals, treatment centers, and other facilities to improve their quality of patient care through various cancer-related programs. These programs are concerned with prevention, early diagnosis, pretreatment evaluation, staging, optimal treatment, rehabilitation, surveillance for recurrent disease, support services, and end-of-life care. Recognizing that cancer is a complex group of diseases, the CoC Cancer Program Standards promote consultation among surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, diagnostic radiologists, pathologists, and other cancer specialists. This multidisciplinary cooperation results in improved patient care."
The range of services at Liberty Hospital proves that you don’t have to go to a research hospital to get excellent care. The Liberty Hospital Oncology Program is one of just 31 in the entire nation that received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer in 2006 because it met or exceeded all 29 of the Commission’s standards. I understand that no one receives this kind of award without the effort of an entire team, but knowing Jan, I am confident that her leadership is a major reason for the growth and excellence of cancer care at Liberty Hospital.
Jan’s advice about being comfortable with your oncologist makes sense to me. If you trust your oncologist, you have confidence that he or she is working with a hospital that offers what you need. My oncologist encouraged me to get a second opinion at a big research hospital when we hit some snags in my treatment plan. When the doctor there concurred with my local oncologist’s plan, I continued my treatment close to home.
If you are just starting your cancer treatment or considering a change in hospitals, you can get a list of approved hospitals from the CoC’s website. Whether you want a big research center or a community hospital, you can find an approved hospital on this list.
I appreciate the work of the CoC that makes it easier for cancer patients to find the right hospital. I’m glad it worked out for me to be treated at my local hospital. The care was excellent, the location was convenient for my family, and Jan Watkins became my friend. Thank you, Jan.