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Navigating the journey: The vital role of nurse case managers in proton therapy for cancer treatment

By Christina L. Mershell

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vital role of nurse case managers

In the area of personalized cancer treatment, every journey is unique, yet the support you receive can make all the difference. Enter the indispensable role of nurse case managers who serve as guides and support for patients, including those receiving proton therapy for cancer treatment, conventional radiation or other medical treatments. Let’s explore the many responsibilities and dedication of these healthcare professionals.

Unified Care Across Treatment Modalities

Whether it's proton therapy or conventional radiation, the support and care provided by nurse case managers remains consistent. Their primary objective is to empower patients with knowledge about their cancer treatment plans and ensure adherence to their radiation schedules.

Find out how radiation treatment works and how it is used to treat cancer here.

“One of the things about this role that I find very fulfilling is when, no matter how small, I am able to make a patient and their family’s burden just a little lighter,” shared Carleen Marianek, MSN, RN, OCN from the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

Through their unwavering support for patients and their families, nurses become lifelines, guiding patients and loved ones through the weeks of treatment with compassion and expertise.

Anticipating and Alleviating Side Effects

At the heart of their role lies the proactive management of side effects. With an understanding that each patient's experience is unique, nurse case managers diligently predict and prevent as many side effects as possible. From encouraging regular exercise to managing medications and supplements, their aim is to enhance patient comfort and well-being throughout the treatment journey.

Tailored Support for Individual Needs

Recognizing the diverse challenges faced by patients, nurse case managers provide tailored support to address specific concerns. Whether it's assisting with urination issues for prostate cancer patients or managing skin breakdown problems for those undergoing breast cancer treatments, their compassionate care extends beyond the medical realm.

Holistic Approach to Wellness

Beyond physical care, nurse case managers prioritize the mental well-being of their patients. By encouraging them to engage in activities they love and nurturing their mental health, they play a pivotal role in fostering resilience and emotional well-being throughout the cancer treatment process.

“Connecting with patients and seeing how relieved they are after treatment is my favorite part of case management. The patients are so grateful not to go through their cancer journey alone and it always makes me happy to see patients doing so well at their follow-up appointments,” said Hannah Bushman, BSN, RN at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

Becoming a Nurse Case Manager 

Experience is key in working with patients as a nurse, and it starts with education. Nurses begin by completing a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. Accelerated programs are often available for people who have completed certain pre-requisites for the degree. Lastly, the licensure examination is required following completion of the bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), otherwise known as the NCLEX exam through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). This exam determines an individual’s proficiency in nursing skills before they enter the workforce. Nurses receive on-the-job training depending on their area of specialty and complete continuing medical education to maintain their licensure. 

Making a Meaningful Impact

For many nurses, the true measure of success lies in the ability to ease the health journey for their patients. Whether it's by being responsive to their needs or preemptively addressing potential challenges, nurse case managers strive to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those they care for. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of the journey, the opportunity to provide comfort and support is a source of immense fulfillment.

Final Thoughts

In the complex landscape of cancer treatment, nurse case managers serve as a source of hope and support for patients undergoing radiation treatment, including proton beam therapy and traditional photon radiation. Their unwavering dedication, compassionate care and holistic approach to wellness ensure that patients feel supported every step of the way.

“I believe that nursing is more of a calling than a profession. It is one of the most rewarding acts to be able to help someone through one of the most difficult times in their life. Our patients really do become like family, and it is an honor to hopefully be a positive part of their journey. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he described the purpose of life - ‘It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well,” reflected Abby Senterfitt, BSN, RN, Director of Adult Nursing Services of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

Reviewed May 24, 2024, by Abby Senterfitt, BSN, RN

About the Author

Christina L. Mershell is a patient educator at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. She provides patient orientations, builds referral relationships, and increases public awareness about proton radiation therapy for cancer treatment through community events and presentations. 

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