National Nurses Week begins Sunday, May 6. In honor of nurses everywhere, especially hematology/oncology nurses, we would like to introduce you to Linda Rivard, RN, BSN, CPON. She is a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurse at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She’s the mother of leukemia survivor named Billy and a former LRF Nurse of the Year. Nurse Rivard is also the Coordinator of the Pediatric Oncology Survivorship in Transition (POST) program, a program that she developed for Advocate Children’s Hospital, based on her experiences with treatment of her son’s leukemia. The POST program was recently the subject of an article in the Daily Southtown, a newspaper that covers the southern Chicago suburbs.
When and why did you decide to become a nurse? Any why oncology?
"I became a nurse by suggestion really. I took an anatomy/physiology class in college and I did very well in the class. I had not considered becoming a nurse until my instructor took me aside and suggested that I might be good at it. So I pursued nursing. My career started in internal medicine, specifically gerontology. I worked for a few years, then started a family and took time off. My child Billy was diagnosed with leukemia so his care became my job.
When my son’s treatment was over I started looking for a job. An administrator at Advocate also had a child who was diagnosed with leukemia and one day she asked me what happens when treatment is done. I told her about the survivorship program that I had experienced during my son’s treatment and asked if she had ever considered starting one at Advocate. The administrator knew I was a nurse and one day she asked me if I would like to come back to Advocate and start a survivorship program there. I had read a book given to me about survivorship during my son’s treatment and subsequently did a lot of research on my own. So when the opportunity to develop a program at Advocate was offered, I was ready. I ended up developing the program we call POST."
What’s a typical day like for an oncology nurse?
"A lot of the work I do in the POST program is sort of behind the scenes. We only have clinic two days a week so between times I’m putting together survivorship care plans, assembling treatment summaries, getting orders ready and things like that. Most of my patients are 15 years or older, so we help them navigate through the issues they may need to handle in the adult world in college and beyond. My patients may need help in the future with cardiology issues, reproductive health or endocrine issues. The POST program helps prepare them to advocate for themselves and meet future challenges as a young adult if they arise."
What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
"Helping these survivors grow into healthy, productive young adults and helping them learn to be advocates for themselves. These young people have already been through a lot and as young 20-year-olds or post college age, they have things to consider health-wise that other young people do not. They may have to continue some kind of maintenance or have follow up testing and do all of that in a new community or a new city. The POST program gives them the tools they need to be successful."
What was the most important or poignant lesson a patient or caregiver
has taught you?
"There are three things that stand out.
- Always listen.
- There are no rules when it comes to cancer.
- Never judge.
I’ve seen treatment from the point of view of an oncology nurse and as the mother of a patient. If you listen with empathy, patients and family will tell you what they need or how things are going.
Cancer doesn’t operate within a plan or on a schedule. So we as professionals do our best to handle what’s happening in the present and plan for what could happen in the future.
Cancer changes people. Just as patients do not complete treatment in the same way, so it is with families. Everyone copes in their own way as best they can. There can be no judging of how things are going or how they are coping.
What advice would you give a first-year nursing student?
"One thing I would tell them is listen, especially if they are considering pediatric oncology because often you have two patients to consider, one is the person with the diagnosis and the other is the parents or caregiver. Both have different needs and a good nurse must provide care in both areas. Sometimes you don’t have to have the answer, you just have to listen.
The other things I would advise is to enjoy what they are doing and have fun because the children are wonderful. They’ve had lots of things thrown at them and they just have the best spirit and the best outlook on life. We all can learn from them."
Read more about Nurse Rivard and the POST program in the article here.