the path to change: Oncology
nurses leading the way

. :  Lianne Germain

Lianne GermainIt is difficult for me to ascertain the reason why I am passionate about oncology. It could be a number of reasons. My mother had metastatic breast cancer when I was 15, and my uncle currently suffers from advanced multiple myeloma. But I wouldn’t attribute it to that. I think my passion comes from seeing the strength in people, helping them get the most valuable currency in the cancer journey – time. It is very rewarding work and strongly revolves around quality of life. I’d like to tell a short story about one experience as a new nurse that made me want to specialize in oncology.

In 2013, I was a new oncology nurse in Northern Ontario. I took a full time position on a medical oncology unit simply due to the vacancy.
Being a new grad, I took anything I could get. My patient was an extraordinary fellow- a tall elderly man who was very kind. He had a soft voice and was one of those patients who always thanked the nurses. He knew just how hard we worked on the unit. He had very little family. More specifically, he had one daughter who never visited. I’ll admit, the family dynamics from what I knew were a little different but I still had a soft spot for him. He lived in the
hospital long term because he had no where else to go, and that in itself is a long story.

Sometimes, if I had the time, I would sit with him while he ate a meal just to give him company. He wasn’t the only one I did this for, but I particularly enjoyed doing this with him. He told me stories about the abuse he was subject to as a child, about running away from home, about being raised by Inuit people, about rebellion, and about the life of a professional artist. He spoke a lot about loss of independence and what it’s like to lose the ability to do what you love most. As time passed, he became increasingly frail. He had a debilitating disease combined with cancer, shortness of breath and frequent falls. He was eventually confined to a wheelchair. He spent his time writing (rather, typing) a book because even picking up a paint brush was painful. Sometimes if I was lucky, he would read or recite a passage to me while I provided him with care. He very proudly showed the nurses photos of his artwork – oils on leather canvas. Years ago, he had sold the entire collection to a Chinese collector for millions.

I always told him how much I loved his artwork and about my “lost creativity” which I described as having been artistic at a younger age only to have “lost it” somewhere along the way. And so one day, he gave me homework. He sent me to the dollar store to buy a pack of brushes, a canvas and some acrylic paints. He instructed me to set up and just begin painting, even with no ideas or guidance. I surprised myself with what I painted. I later learned that he was my guidance in my artistic journey and helped me find what I had lost. Years later, that inspiration sits upon my wall on a medium sized dollar store canvas. And today, I still paint.

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