May is Oncology Nursing Month, celebrating a profession that serves an integral part in cancer care.
Oncology nurses are essential to a patient’s cancer journey. They are there to explain a diagnosis, guide a patient through treatment, celebrate victories and offer comfort and support through the unimaginable.
The field of oncology nursing is one of the most challenging and rewarding fields in nursing. These nurses often work behind the scenes, communicating with doctors and coordinating care.
For patients battling a rare and aggressive cancer such as mesothelioma, oncology nurses play an important role in a survivorship care plan. They keep track of medical records and test results, safely administer treatments such as chemotherapy, and help patients understand complex medical terminology.
Karen Selby is a registered nurse and patient and family advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Her extensive background includes working for a surgical oncology program at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where she assisted surgeons with lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and other procedures.
As a patient advocate at The Mesothelioma Center, Selby uses that experience when working with mesothelioma patients and caregivers. For nearly 10 years, she has helped patients navigate the complicated health care system and connected them with the resources they need during their cancer battle.
Interview with Karen Selby
Q: What is your background with oncology nursing and patient advocacy?
Selby: It’s almost impossible to be a nurse and not deal with oncology in some aspect. My oncology experience started in the early 90s as an operating room first assistant nurse for a very progressive surgical oncology program at the University of Maryland.
This experience allowed me to gain knowledge in the surgical procedures associated with diagnosing and treating mesothelioma. I am a natural nurturer and enjoyed the patient care aspect of nursing. So, when The Mesothelioma Center reached out to me in 2009 to see if I had an interest in joining their advocacy program, I was very excited.
Q: When did you first get involved with helping mesothelioma patients? What drew you to this specialty?
Selby: Well, I first got involved in perioperative nursing in the early 90s. I was quickly drawn to surgery just after nursing school. After several years in the operating room, I found myself specializing in vascular and oncologic specialties.
I joined The Mesothelioma Center as a Patient Advocate in 2009 and was immediately excited to assist patients and caregivers with this rare cancer. My experience allowed me to know firsthand the importance of choosing the right specialist in order to receive best treatment options.
Sometimes this isn’t easy to understand, so sharing my experience with patients allows me to help them be the most educated and informed when making the choices that are right for them.
Q: How does your background prepare you for supporting mesothelioma patients and caregivers?
Selby: Because my background is multifaceted, being a true advocate for a new patient or caregiver comes easy. I am naturally drawn to someone in need and want to walk with them on their journey to help make their life a little easier.
That may mean explaining the process that they will be experiencing during a future procedure, helping them research and choose a clinical trial, assisting with scheduling an appointment to see a specialist, or bringing like patients together in our unique support group.
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Q: What should patients expect when they first connect with you?
Selby: I ask lots of questions. I want to know as much as I can about their unique story. Everyone is different, so knowing as much as I can helps tailor the services we can offer here at The Mesothelioma Center.
Q: What makes The Mesothelioma Center different?
Selby: Our advocacy center is very unique in that we have very high-level, experienced advocates on staff, with each having unique skill sets: Medical, VA-Accredited Claims Agents, a certified dietitian and a licensed mental health counselor, to name a few.
We truly are an advocacy center, and our desire is to always have the patient or caregiver’s best interest at heart. We have no secret agenda.
Q: Why should mesothelioma patients connect with a patient advocate with oncology nursing experience?
Selby: With mesothelioma being very searchable, patients and caregivers can search terms on the internet and find themselves visiting a variety of websites that will label themselves as advocacy groups.
Many of these groups may not have any oncology experience and know very little about this unique cancer.
Connecting with an experienced oncologic nurse will allow the patient to get individualized information based on their unique situation rather than very broad and generalized information.
Q: How do you make a difference in the lives of the patients you help?
Selby: I feel that I try to help them at their level. I listen to their needs, then help them prioritize and problem solve. I have been here for almost 10 years and don’t plan on going anywhere as long as I’m needed.
I love it when I have a survivor call me several years after a diagnosis and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you remember me!’