The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA congratulates Janet C. Stocker, RN, MS, NP-C, AOCNS, on being chosen by more than 400 of her peers to be this year’s winner of the Oncology Nurse Excellence award.
“I’m extremely passionate about oncology,” says Stocker, “particularly palliative care, and dealing with patients’ fears and anxieties—just making sure the patients and their families have the support they need.”
Wearing 2 hats at the Seacoast Cancer Center, part of Dover, New Hampshire’s Wentworth Douglass Hospital—an oncology adult nurse practitioner and a clinical nurse specialist—Stocker notes that her days can be hectic. She has to look out for both patients and fellow nurses. But the variety of her workday is what keeps her engaged. Things are never boring.
“I get to flex between educating patients and educating nursing staff, which is a nice mix for me,” says Stocker. “It’s a little bit crazy, but it gives me great job satisfaction.”
“Janet exemplifies the role of an oncology nurse in our community hospital–based outpatient cancer center,” says Alice Tansey, RN, BSN, a medical oncology nurse manager and colleague of Stocker’s at Wentworth Douglass Hospital. She gives Stocker plaudits for taking on so many different tasks. “Janet seamlessly moves back and forth from presenting evidence on personal protection for staff in the infusion room, to mentoring staff, to conferring on patient care, to researching admissions for neutropenia.”
Though Stocker is a highly capable educator, she is deeply committed to providing patient care and says that she chose oncology because it provided a unique opportunity to connect to patients.
“I completed my nursing rotations, and these were patients that I seem to take care of a lot,” she tells The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA. “I just seemed to connect with them, so when I went looking for a job, I looked for work in oncology.”
The Call to Nursing
Stocker grew up in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania, a small borough in the Lehigh Valley just north of Allentown. After receiving her associate’s degree, she started work as a medical secretary. Stocker grew bored, however, sitting behind the desk, and became increasingly interested in what was going on in the office around her. Convinced that she wanted to learn more about medicine, she lasted all of 3 months on the job.
“I worked and quickly decided that this was not for me, to be behind a desk doing administrative work. I sincerely wanted connectivity to the patient,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be in some therapeutic profession as a child. I always liked helping people.”
By age 22, she was employed as a licensed practical nurse at a community hospital just across the Delaware River in New Jersey. She started working on her associate’s degree in nursing, but had to take a slight detour when diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After treatment, she married and moved to New Hampshire with her husband, and completed her registered nurse degree.
The traumatic experience was exhausting, however. And Stocker decided that she needed a “personal and professional break” from oncology. She spent the next 5 years working as an emergency room nurse. But when a position for an assistant manager in the hospital’s oncology unit opened up, she knew that she should apply. “I was missing it, and I knew that I needed that connectivity again.”
Stocker says that she usually does not tell patients that she is a fellow survivor. She only tells her story if she thinks that sharing a personal experience will be of some value to them. Sometimes she can make a patient’s fear less scary by saying, “I’ve been there, I understand.” Although she and her patients have suffered, she finds the job deeply fulfilling. It truly makes her happy.
“There are times when it’s sad,” she says. “But on the other side, there are times of great joy. There’s a balance that happens there—just knowing that I’m helping that person not only in his or her really happy times, but to help manage and get through some of those sad moments in life. Whether that’s being told that you have cancer or telling someone that their life is limited. How do you help them do what they want to do before they die?”
Walking alongside of that patient and his or her family, guiding them through this detour in their lives, this is the piece that oncology nurses facilitate every day. And that’s the joy and comfort she finds in her role.
Looking to the Future
When she started at Wentworth Douglass 4 years ago, Stocker worked a 40-hour week as a clinical nurse specialist, and as an oncology nurse practitioner at a separate physician-based office and infusion center once per week. Now, she transitions between both roles at Wentworth Douglass, providing care for a few hours and then doing rounds of inpatient units to support staff. Sometimes, she’ll “teach a class and address a patient prescription need during a class break.”
Stocker has played a lead role in introducing new procedures and technologies to the cancer center, and she is a stickler for evidence-based procedures. She created a checklist to streamline the delivery of chemotherapy and improve safety for employees and patients alike. She also developed care plans for the center’s electronic health record (EHR) based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines.
“Prior to implementing the EHR, Janet ensured that all steps of the delivery of chemo were safe,” says Tansey. “All of this is done within a supportive, mentoring, and empathetic atmosphere, which enhances the experience of our patients.”
She is part of the team implementing the center’s Elekta Impac software and Mosaiq EHR system. Stocker also developed a protocol for the insertion of vascular access devices, which has been implemented hospital-wide.
Oncology has changed a lot over the past decades, from new antiemetic and growth factors for managing side effects to new targeted treatment therapies. And Stocker has changed too. She says that it is important to grow and learn throughout your career, to keep up with and successfully implement advances in the field.
“Oncology nursing has changed immensely through the years,” she says. “How and where chemotherapy is delivered, for example. When I began working, chemotherapy was mostly given on an inpatient basis. Now chemo is mostly given on the outpatient basis, so patients can go home to their families. Go home to their own pillows.”
The biggest and most important change in oncology over the past decades is that cancer is being treated with increasing success, and patients are living longer. This gives Stocker a new, but good, problem to deal with: patients facing a lifetime of survivorship. She says that nurse specialists and nurse practitioners are well positioned to deliver this long-term survivorship care, taking on matters like counseling a patient on obtaining appropriate screening such as a mammogram or a colonoscopy. There are a declining number of physicians available to deal with the skyrocketing number of survivors, and oncology providers must think creatively about delivering treatment.
“Because we’ve done such a great job treating cancer, we will have more patients who you’re going to find that they had a history of cancer, or at least a family member who does,” she says. “With healthcare looking at a limited number of physicians, there are important disease management and survivorship roles that nurse practitioners can fill very confidently, guiding the patients through what they need to do for just good sound healthcare after a diagnosis of cancer. That’s just one part of what you gain as an oncology nurse.”
A Commitment to Helping Those with Cancer
As the Oncology Nurse Excellence award winner, Janet C. Stocker, RN, MS, NP-C, AOCNS, chose 2 local cancer charities to receive donations—Amy’s Treat and the New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition.
Janet chose Amy’s Treat because it provides solutions to the day-to-day difficulties of living with cancer and offers unexpected “treats” to renew the spirit to patients at the Seacoast Cancer Center of New Hampshire. This all-volunteer organization funds fun activities when they are needed the most.
As a collaboration between a cancer center and its community, Amy’s Treat works to meet the requests of patients with cancer, whether in an outing to the ballpark or a trip to a country inn. “A contribution to Amy’s Treat ends up exactly where the donor meant it to be—in the hands of those who need it most,” according to the organization, which acts as the go-between for the donor to an individual with cancer.
The organization launched in 2007 as a legacy foundation honoring the memory of Amy Maliszewski. If you wish to help, Amy’s Treat accepts online donations at www.FirstGiving.com or through the mail:
PO Box 2234
Dover, NH 03821
New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition
Janet also chose the New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition because of its work to significantly reduce prostate cancer deaths in the state. This all-volunteer organization, almost all of whom are survivors, spreads awareness of this disease through appearances at service clubs and community organizations. The group also offers brochures and PowerPoint presentations through its website, and publishes a monthly newsletter that is e-mailed to hundreds of subscribers.
Through its partnerships with the local medical community, the New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition encourages informed decision making regarding detection and treatment. Another set of partnerships, with New Hampshire’s 6 prostate cancer support groups, helps the organization reach newly diagnosed men.
If you would like to help the New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition raise the quality of life for men and their loved ones, donations can be made online at www.FirstGiving.com or through the mail:
The New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition
9 Fernwood Drive
Merrimack, NH 03054