Q&A: Tarnya Hotchkin, Cancer Council nurse

Thursday 26 November, 2015

Tarnya Hotchkin, Cancer Council nurse

The inaugural Australasian Youth Cancer Summit is coming up in December; Cancer Council Australia is proud to be a supporting partner. Tarnya is a Cancer Council nurse with years of expertise in working with teenagers and young adults with cancer, and she’s passionate about meeting their unique needs.  

What kind of issues do you see facing teenagers and young adults with cancer?

Going through cancer in the prime of youth is fraught with many challenges.  This is a time when a young person should be making decisions about school subjects, jobs, and further studies, as well as going out, playing sport, gaining independence. With a diagnosis of cancer, this ‘normal’ development gets interrupted. Young people can become isolated from their friends, missing school, work and extracurricular activities.

A unique challenge is having to think about the impact their illness and treatment may have on their ability to have children – fertility isn’t something a teenager is used to thinking about. Another important decision to make (alongside medical advice) is whether to be treated in a paediatric or adult treating centre.  Both have positives and negatives. Access to clinical trials that are relevant to this age group should also be considered.

How did you get involved in working with young people affected by cancer?

I worked at the medical oncology ward of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for 12 years, and during that time we treated a lot of adolescent and young adult patients, often for sarcoma. Seeing firsthand the challenges that people in this age bracket faced made me want to make a difference in their lives.  

During this time I volunteered with CanTeen and had close connections with TLC for Kids - both are great organisations that support young people outside the treating centre.  I then worked at Peter MacCallum’s specialist statewide service for teenagers and young adults (ONTrac at Peter Mac) while studying child and adolescent grief counselling. 

Right now I’m part time at Royal Children’s Hospital as a clinical nurse consultant working with teenagers, and of course I also work on the Cancer Council 13 11 20 information and support line. I feel very grateful for all the opportunities I have been given during my nursing career.

Describe a day in the life of a Cancer Council 13 11 20 nurse.

A lot of the time people call or email us to clarify information they’ve been given, or to ask for further information about cancer. They may have seen something in the media or read something online, and want to make sure they’ve got the right story. 

For people with a cancer diagnosis, or their carers, often we link them into one of our programs such as pro bono legal assistance or support groups.  Sometimes people don’t actually know why they are calling – there’s no one reason, they simply want to be heard. It’s our job to explore issues with them and support them.  

A day could also include helping someone select a free wig from our selection. These sessions often lead to further discussion about how they’re going and how we can help. Every day is different!

What’s the best thing about being a Cancer Council nurse?

I love being on the frontline of support.  To be an anonymous voice to a caller who is calling during what could potentially be a very traumatic time in their lives, and they’ve somehow found the courage to pick up the phone and call.  You can never underestimate what a big deal this can be for people. I feel privileged to be able to assist. 


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Updated: 26 Nov, 2015