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A new cycle of life

Experiencing cancer from both sides of the bed, one nurse knows how treatment is provided is just as important as the treatment itself. By Annie May.

Melissa Oostenbroek's sisters don't know how she can be a cancer nurse. For them it brings back bad memories of losing both parents to cancer. But for Oostenbroek, caring for cancer patients brings her comfort.

"To some extent I understand what they need. I know their pain, and the pain their loved ones are feeling, and I use my experience to help them through that. I also know that sometimes nothing can help," the HOCA (Haematology and Oncology Clinics of Australia) Wesley nurse says.

A nurse for the past 14 years, Oostenbroek always had an interest in cancer nursing, but it wasn't until cancer became a part of her personal life that she decided to make it part of her career.

"Mum said having a good nurse is the difference to how well you handled treatment - if you had a good nurse who lifted your spirits it made the difference between a good and a bad treatment day. This makes you realise it isn't just about how well you deliver the treatment but how good the support is underlining it all," she said.

"Patients go through good and bad days but it's important that we as carers provide strong support the whole time. It's about talking to them, making them smile, and showing them you really care. "

As Clinical Learning Coordinator at HOCA her key role is educating staff.

"One of the most important things I try and teach them is that the role of the nurse isn't just to provide treatment, but care," says Oostenbroek.

"It gives me the opportunity to inspire people to learn more and understand what we do and why we do it. At the end of the day it really makes a difference to patients if you understand their concerns."

Before starting at HOCA, she worked in ICU and recovery but finds her current position the most challenging. And the most rewarding.

"Working with cancer patients isn't for every nurse. It can take an emotional toll, as you become very close to patients and their families and see them through their journey. Sometimes that ends with you not being able to do any more, which is always sad, and some struggle to deal with that.

"But there are also the happy stories."

Helping her take the focus of the sadness she comes across at work and to help her cope with the death of her parents, Oostenbroek took up cycling and triathlons.

At 4.30am each morning she is cycling a 40 kilometre circuit around Brisbane before getting ready for work and taking her three boys to school.

"That is my therapy - I love cycling. It's my time to be just Melissa on a bike, not Melissa the nurse and not Melissa the mum," she says.

"I ran a lot when mum was battling cancer, but got a stress fracture from running too much. It was then suggested to me to take up cycling.

"Mental health wise I was going through a lot of grieving and training was a way of helping me take my mind off things. It is important to have goals to focus on because you can feel like your life is changing completely."

Her training and achievements in triathlons also gave patients something interesting to talk about.

"They don't always want to talk about their cancer treatment and what I was doing with the training and competing was something they were all very interested in."

"I raised close to $3,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and support from a lot of the breast cancer patients made me feel good that it wasn't just about me. When I completed the ironman triathlon I got a lot of hugs and patients wanted me to bring my medal into the clinic." n

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