Erin has years of expertise in working with teenagers. Combining her roles as a school nurse and a 13 11 20 nurse, offers her a unique perspective on the needs of our youth.
Cancer has an impact on the school community and it doesn't matter whether the diagnosis is a student, sibling, parent, grandparent, or a member of staff at the school. The impact is far reaching and many people are unsure of what they can do to help or what to say.
When dealing with a school community you have people of different ages, different life experiences, and most importantly, a different understanding of what cancer is. It is about adapting the information required to suit the person and making sure the appropriate supports are available.
I first started work as a nurse on the medical oncology ward at Peter Mac, specialising in adolescents and young adults, and found this both rewarding and challenging. Adolescence can be a challenging time even without a cancer diagnosis. I found many young people struggling to deal with the cancer diagnosis as well as keeping up with school, social functions and maintaining their relationships with their peers.
I moved into school nursing to help expand and develop my skills when dealing with young people and to get a true understanding of the challenges teenagers face even without the cancer diagnosis. The school I work for is very involved in trying to make a difference. Last year we were lucky enough to take 16 students to Papua New Guinea as part of their Values in Action trip. The students were given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local way of life in eight villages for five days. The contrast between their lives back home and what faced them was thought-provoking. The students raised money and sourced donated goods throughout the year so we could provide the villages with medical supplies, fishing equipment and school supplies. I feel so privileged to have been able to have been involved in the trip and been able to help them conduct medical clinics for villages that wouldn't normally have access to medical supplies.
On the local front, we support events such as Australia's Biggest Morning Tea. I'm honoured to be able to provide the link to the students about what a difference these events make to people living with cancer.
A day on 13 11 20 can be varied. You have calls or emails about screening for cancer, prevention, someone has just been diagnosed, a carer dealing with a loved ones diagnosis, financial issues or someone unsure of where to go for help. We rely on our skills to uncover the issues and then refer to the appropriate support services. Sometimes the caller might not even know why they've called and we explore what has been going on in their life and take the time to listen.
I love being able to have a conversation with someone that you've never met before and to be able to help them navigate the health care system or explain what support services are available. There is nothing better than hearing "I'm so glad I called" at the end of a conversation and know that you've helped someone.
Cancer in your school community is a guide for staff members who would like to support students, families and colleagues affected by cancer. You can order copies for your school online or by calling 13 11 20 and speaking with a Cancer Council nurse.