The Best Medicine is Understanding

Greetings!  I am a Nurse Navigator for the Blood Disorders and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic at University of Colorado, Anschutz Campus. I have worked at this hospital for 12 years. I’d like to share the life- and career-changing experience I had from being a volunteer for Epic Experience.  

My passion for working in oncology started when I was a travel nurse on the BMT floor at AMC in 2009. After that, I moved to the Clinic Nurse role, and finally on to my current position as Nurse Navigator. From the first day of working on the floor, I immediately felt a love for the role as an oncology nurse. I feel it is a great honor and privilege to guide patients through this extremely difficult time in their lives. I love the part of the role that involves emotional/mental care as well as medical/physical care for these patients.  

What I didn’t realize was how little I knew about their journey outside of the medical setting. I learned a LOT from the very first time I volunteered for a week with Epic Experience. The camp allows time for discussions with the campers and volunteers to explore the journey and truly listen to each other’s stories. I never realized what a huge lack of understanding I had by only listening from the medical side of things. All of a sudden a world of opportunity opened up to improve the care provided to our patients. Some simple things that are said routinely to our patients can actually harm more than help them. My coworkers and I always have good intentions, but you really can’t understand what a patient with cancer needs to hear until you have listened to them outside of a medical setting.  

One example of how I changed our practice came about after hearing that patients are very willing to consent for tissue banking but are not able to make this decision right before the biopsy is planned, when anxiety levels are high. I discussed this with our team, and our practice now reaches out to our patients via phone to discuss consent for tissue banking at least a few days prior to the biopsy. Our numbers for consents have increased since making this change. There are endless examples of ways that I feel I am able to provide better support to our patients because of what I learned from volunteering for Epic Experience.  

I went on to volunteer for several weeks of camp and joined the medical team for over a year. I increased my confidence when talking to patients because of the gift I was given to truly understand their needs from a different side of things. I now feel more comfortable talking to patients, instead of avoiding difficult conversations. Volunteering with Epic Experience has been the most valuable thing I’ve done for my career, including and way surpassing, completing my Oncology Nurse Certification. The impact it had on me as an Oncology Nurse was just a bonus. 

The impact this organization has on patients is immeasurable. Quotes from some of the campers will forever stick in my head, and I believe that hearing some of them is the best way to understand their life-changing experience. I’ve heard many campers say, “I feel like I have my life back. I was so lost before this camp.” “It’s so valuable to be able to talk about my experience with other cancer patients who can understand.  I have to hold back with my family and friends because I know they are uncomfortable talking about it.” “I’ve gained friendships and a community that will always be with me” “Pushing myself to have these adventures allowed me to feel like myself again.  My family treated me like I was in a glass box and were too scared to let me do anything.” “Going down the river helped me to realize how important it is to go with the flow of life, instead of fighting against the current. I now feel a sense of peace.”

The experience of camp does not stop after the week is over. It continues to be a part of all of our lives who have been touched and blessed by Epic Experience. I have witnessed patients gain friendships and support from fellow campers who stayed with them through the hardest times. Our founder, Nancy Ferro, and her family have personally traveled to support former campers through medical issues, where they would have otherwise been alone. 

The unique thing about this camp is that most (or maybe all) other camps only allow patients who are young and in remission. I have seen the biggest impact on our campers who are older, still getting treatment, and some on their last trial option. I have heard some patients say that even though they might not have long to live, they will now live their life braver and more boldly than ever, because of their time spent with Epic Experience.  

I am proud to work for a medical center who continues to support an outstanding organization like Epic Experience.

From my heart,

Christine, a.k.a “Iggy”