Meet the two nurses paving the way for the next generation
Adolescence is a time associated with great physical, psychological and emotional development; and very rarely associated with cancer, or more specifically, sarcoma. Sarcomas are a group of cancers that start in the bones or the soft tissues, and although more prevalent in younger people, sarcomas comprise less than 1% of the cancer population within Australia.
Treatment is complex and requires a team of professionals working across medical fields. Noticing that young adults were falling through the gaps in an often difficult-to-navigate system, Katie Thomson, a Sarcoma Clinical Nurse Specialist at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Tanya Haynes, a Sarcoma Clinical Nurse Consultant at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, joined forces to tackle this problem. Their solution, the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) service, extends not only across hospital campuses – a kind of collaboration which is rare to see – but across hospitals in Sydney and rural New South Wales. The service provides essential medical, surgical, psycho-social and organisational support to patients aged 15-30 years old affected by the rare cancer.
“Having Katie and Tanya as my dedicated specialist nurses has been a huge help, making my life that bit easier and less stressful by helping me communicate with my doctors. Simple tasks like booking scans used to be impossible as I had no direct line to my doctor, but both Katie and Tanya’s willingness to help with anything provides me with reassurance and the confidence that I have a great care team,” said David, one of the young patients they help.
Prior to the creation of the service, young cancer patients felt as though they were left to navigate their own care in a system which could sometimes be overwhelming, even for adults. Feelings of minimal support would lead to missed appointments; incorrect or outdated information led to poor understanding of treatment plans; and patients from rural areas across NSW were required to travel long distances to hospitals in larger cities for treatment.
Thanks to the relationships they’ve established with hospitals across rural and regional NSW, Katie and Tanya can co-ordinate local care for young patients from across the state, as well as offering support and education in areas where AYA services are not available. This means that young adults can receive the best possible care in the comfort of their own community, without having to travel hundreds of kilometres to Sydney for treatment. Katie and Tanya’s role doesn’t end there - once treatment is over, the AYA team liaise with head teachers, lecturers and employers to make sure patients can smoothly transition back in to everyday life.
The service has been a huge success, and the AYA team has since expanded to include adolescents and young adults affected by other types of cancer such as germ cell and brain tumours. With their support, young patients across New South Wales can feel confident in managing their healthcare needs throughout treatment, leading to better outcomes and improved patient experience.