In June 2019, we welcomed Amy O’Donnell into the role as Clinical Nurse Specialist for lung cancer.
This brand-new role, funded through philanthropy, enables us to provide an exceptional level of specialised care for people with lung cancer.
Amy came to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse when the doors opened in 2013, as a highly-experienced day therapy nurse. She worked as a nurse educator in day therapy, while completing a secondment in clinical trials. Amy has also spent time working in ICU, the wards and the gynae-oncology clinic.
Amy brings to her new role not only a wealth of experience, but a special connection with those affected by lung cancer— her father passed away from the disease two years ago.
“While every cancer experience is different, having a personal, lived experience helps with the understanding of the situation these people and their loved ones are facing,” she said. “Treatment can be very complex, and there’s a huge stigma to battle—it’s so closely associated with smoking. Many of my patients have either never smoked, or quit many years ago. It’s very tough as it is often the first thing that comes to mind when people speak about lung cancer.”
As a specialist nurse, Amy is passionate about providing emotional support to her patients, coordinating their treatment plans, and helping them to navigate the often complex and overwhelming treatment pathways.
“When I picture a patient coming through the door, I see them entering a maze,” said Amy. “There’s so much going on—there isn’t just chemotherapy and surgery, there’s now also immunotherapy and oral tablets for specific mutations. It is complex, as often patients will have other health issues which can affect their treatment. My objective is to make their lives as easy as possible at a time that is often the hardest to deal with in life.”
In this specialised care role, communication is key, and Amy spends as much time as possible with her patients and their families and carers. During clinic days, she sits with them during appointments to provide additional support, information or reassurance. On non-clinic days, she visits patients in the ward and follows up on patient questions, concerns or requests for advice she receives throughout the week.
Right now, she’s even assisting a patient with a visa application for her partner to come to Australia from overseas to be with her.
“I know very little about visas and immigration. But the point is, they know who to come to for support—even if I don’t have all the answers. People just want to be heard and listened to, and know they’ve got a voice in the system, someone who’s looking out for them.”
In the matter of weeks Amy has been in the role, patients have already been significantly impacted by her specialised care and support.
“Recently I spoke to a woman who had started treatment for lung cancer, after previously having lymphoma,” says Amy. “She didn’t know we had a specialist nurse for lung cancer, so I went down to meet her. She said, ‘I’m just so happy you exist!’ And I hadn’t even done anything for her yet. Because of her history with lymphoma, she knows how complex the treatment will be, and the value of a specialist nurse. It’s such a privilege to be providing that level of reassurance and care to people.”
Despite her responsibilities as a busy mum-of-two, Amy is excited to continue her studies to become a Nurse Practitioner for lung cancer, an opportunity that has also been enabled by our donors.
“With that qualification, I imagine I would be given more responsibilities and be able to do things like order x-rays and scans, prescribe drugs, perform full assessments and decide on treatment plans for patients. It would allow me to support people with lung cancer in an even greater capacity in conjunction with their treatment plan. At this stage, to be honest, I imagine it would be quite daunting— but also extremely satisfying.”