My Secret to Surviving Cancer: One-on-one Support from My Nurse

Categories:  News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 at 3:15 PM
My Secret to Surviving Cancer: One-on-one Support from My Nurse by Pablo Reyes
Contributed Photo

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 2 cancer, with a mass that infected a few of the lymph nodes in my neck and grew down and around my heart. After nearly a year of medical appointments, and chemotherapy lasting about seven months, my treatment was over and the cancer dissolved, along with any sense of individuality or confidence I once had. Thankfully, God sent me an angel to help me in my fight. Her name is nurse Jennifer Dougan, and she saves lives! Here’s how:

I remember my first day of chemotherapy like it was yesterday. I walked through the main entrance of the Regional Cancer Center (RCC) and handed one of the patient care attendants my RCC identification card. After a brief but nervous wait, I was invited back to the chemotherapy infusion wing to begin treatment. I recall being scared as I was escorted to a large blue medical chair in the back corner of the room, where I was to be connected to the infusion machine. Moments later, I was introduced to the woman who would be there with me every step of the way.

Jennifer Dougan is a sweet, positive, soft-spoken individual – always with a smile and an open ear, speaking words of encouragement. She is the mother of a beautiful young girl – better known as her little angel – whom she is in the process of adopting, and to whom she provides the best of support. It is that same support that Dougan provides to each of her patients; it was that same support that saved my life.

Effective Sept. 1, 2016, the RCC administration will have moved medical oncology infusion services to member hospitals within the Erie region. I felt it was finally necessary to share my story, as those oncology nurses who saved my life may no longer be at the RCC.

Although Executive Director Michael Keyes guarantees increased chemotherapy services and newly created positions at member hospitals, what he did not mention is all of the medical personnel who will be affected by this reorganization. As a patient in remission, I am concerned that other RCC patients will be deprived of the one-on-one support from nurses like Dougan, and other staff members who pride themselves on knowing their patients by name and working each day to treat their individual conditions.

Financial challenges are something agencies large and small are experiencing all over the region, but are the savings that can be gained by eliminating oncology infusion services worth the sacrifice of patient care? How about those who rely most on a comprehensive treatment approach – how will this change impact their health?

Cancer patients are more than just patients. They are warriors, and we need to provide them with the tools they require to persevere through battle. The reality is, treatment will not be the same for those patients who receive radiation and chemotherapy in a single visit to the RCC. Or, for those patients who commute to the RCC alone because their parents or loved ones are working full-time jobs to maintain insurance needed to cover treatments, which inevitably cost hundreds and thousands of dollars each month.

Ultimately, treatment is more than chemotherapy. Treatment is having the nurse who knows you sit by your side, holding your hand as you pour out your soul and refuse to take another round of treatment … because it was just yesterday that you started to feel like yourself again – a feeling so rare, as your mind constantly battles “what if” thoughts and your body deals with the side effects of chemotherapy drugs.

 That’s how chemotherapy was for me. Dougan was my hand-holder, my hero, and my beacon of light. In many ways, she was my unconditional support.

 We cannot allow patients diagnosed with life-changing diseases to be deprived of the life-saving continuity of care that all nurses and medical staff at the RCC provide.

Chemotherapy treatment is one of the most vulnerable experiences in patients’ lives. For anyone who has been diagnosed with a life-changing illness, I bet you would agree. For anyone reading this who has not been diagnosed, I bet you have a family member or loved one who has.

And finally, for anyone who has ever lost a loved one to cancer, I am sorry, and would not be surprised if you received similar support from the nurses and staff, too, as I often watched Dougan speaking with family and loved ones in the waiting rooms when the news was not so great. I bet your nurse helped in any way possible. I bet your nurse always went the extra mile.

Now is our time to help the nurses and staff of the RCC, and to go that extra mile, too. To assist them in saving not only their jobs, but also the lives of patients within our community who are battling cancer.

RCC nurses and staff members strive each day to provide care. Every day the staff see, feel, and experience the realities of cancer and its effects. Rather than retreat, they choose to stay and fight. They support those patients battling these illnesses, unconditionally. As members of this community, we have an opportunity to fight for them. We must not retreat; we must take action.

For the last 30 years, the RCC has provided patients in the Erie region the comprehensive care they deserve under the convenience of one roof. If there was ever a time for our community to come together and advocate support of the RCC, it’s now.

For the last 30 years, the RCC has provided patients in the Erie region the comprehensive care they deserve under the convenience of one roof. If there was ever a time for our community to come together and advocate support of the RCC, it’s now. We need to work together to develop a better solution that benefits all parties and does not eliminate chemotherapy infusion treatment services at the RCC.

On my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, I feel I need to say thank you by speaking out. I would not be here without the support provided to me at the RCC.

We owe to it nurses like Jennifer Dougan and all RCC doctors, physician assistants, and staff who work as a family to take care of our families. And we need to stick together, because we have more work to do in the fight against cancer.

Pablo Reyes is a cancer survivor, IUP doctoral candidate, and RCC lover. He can be contacted at

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