“An Incredible Journey”

Online First - Conference Correspondent
Christin Melton

BOSTON—At the opening ceremony, oncology nurses were honored for their contributions to the field and reminded how important they are in a patient’s cancer journey. As Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) president Carlton G. Brown, RN, PhD, AOCN, noted, “Your voice is needed at this challenging time,” as he welcomed ONS members to the conference. Then, he issued 2 challenges to the attendees: (1) learn more about the healthcare reform law and overcome any reluctance to educate patients on the changes; and (2) become more involved in advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.

 

The ceremony also recognized four nurses for contributions to oncology nursing. Donna L. Berry, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, director of the Phyllis F. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, received the Distinguished Research Award for studies that have enhanced the science and practice of oncology nursing. Martha Langhorne, MSN, RN, FNP, AOCN, a nurse practitioner with Binghamton Gastroenterology in Binghamton, New York, was recipient of the Pearl Moore Making a Difference Award for contributions to oncology nursing at the local and regional levels. The International Award went to David Makumi-Kinyanjui, RN, MPC(c), a Kenyan national who manages the oncology program at Kenya’s Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, for instituting a breast and cervical cancer screening program that has benefited thousands of women. And the ONS Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed on Judith Johnson, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nurse consultant with HealthQuest in Richfield, Minnesota. Johnson, a past president of ONS, received a standing ovation as her achievements in research, education, and advocacy were highlighted. When Johnson joined ONS, it had 500 members; it has since grown to more than 35,300 members.

 

Finally, keynote speaker Charlie Lustman bounded onstage. Lustman, a graduate of Berkeley College of Music, was a practicing musician in 2007 when he learned he had osteosarcoma of the jaw. He turned the devastating diagnosis into a message of hope and today performs his one-man opera “Made Me Nuclear” at cancer centers and community theaters across the country. The CD, available at www.MadeMeNuclear.com, chronicles his cancer journey, starting with the physician’s call, to removal of his upper jaw, to the decision to be a survivor rather than a victim. Lustman proudly announced he is now “NED,” no evidence of disease.

 

Lustman said, “The first thing I thought about was how do I tell my pregnant wife...the next thing you think is, Why me? Why is this happening to me?” This was followed by “Why not me? Who should get this? My wife? My son? My friends?” Lustman said he does not know if there is a “right person” to get cancer, but for whatever reason, he received this “1 in 300 million” malignancy. He revealed the confusion felt upon first hearing that unfamiliar word—osteosarcoma. He described the difficulty in finding a physician to treat the rare condition and his annoyance at the professional who designed his prosthesis and referred to his missing jaw as a “defect.”

 

Although Lustman’s message is of hope, his lyrics playfully illustrate struggles patients with cancer face. After changing into a futuristic suit adorned with the symbol for radioactivity and donning a pair of sunglasses, he launched into an enthusiastic rendition of his signature song, “Made Me Nuclear.”

 

Lines like, “Took me down a hallway floor/looked just like a psycho ward/underneath the hospital like a bomb shelter/and there I was in a movie scene/right in front of a time machine/,” give a sense of how alien the medical world seems to a new patient. Lustman credited his caregivers for helping him “[get] my life back in a way that was more powerful than it was when I started the journey,” albeit with a newfound fear of his prosthesis flying out of his mouth while singing and landing in the front row.

 

Before the session concluded, Brown encouraged the audience to “reflect and realize how important you are in the lives of families and patients with cancer. No one can do what the oncology nurse does,” and expressed his belief that oncology nursing is a calling, rather than merely a profession.

“We are proud of your accomplishments and appreciate your contributions to oncology nursing,” said Brown.

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Last modified: May 21, 2015