A Cancer Nurse's Personal Perspective
Laurie Plante has been a cancer nurse for 30 years, over 20 of them with Dr. Ghosh. What many people don’t know is that she’s also experienced cancer and has first-hand knowledge of the way it can transform your life. We recently talked with her about her experience.
Can you walk us through your nursing career?
When I began working as a nurse, I didn’t specialize in any particular area. My first exposure to caring for cancer patients was as a float nurse in a Denver hospital. From the moment I started working on the oncology floor, I fell in love with cancer nursing. There was so much to learn, and the patients were so special.
I’ve been a cancer nurse for 30 years, practicing in Colorado, Kentucky and Iowa. The majority of that time has been with Dr. Ghosh. LaNette and I worked with him at Oncology Associates. When he started Iowa Blood and Cancer Care, we went with him. We thought that practice would start slowly, but the phones were ringing off the hook and we got busy very fast. People wanted to follow Dr. Ghosh.
The same thing happened after Dr. Ghosh left PCI. Patients followed him out of loyalty and respect. I followed him for the same reasons. We’ve been a team for a long time.
You have your own personal experience with cancer. Tell us about that.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with a chordoma, a very rare form of bone cancer, located at the base of my brain. Dr. Ghosh was behind me all the way. He helped me get a diagnosis, sending me to an ENT, who sent me to a neurologist, who referred me to a neurosurgeon at the University of Iowa. His persistence paid off because even though the CT scan was negative, Dr. Ghosh knew something wasn’t right.
The treatment for the chordoma was surgery and radiation. I had a six-hour surgery (it could have been up to twelve hours) and was hospitalized for over two weeks. The radiation was a very specialized type of treatment called proton beam radiation, which isn’t available everywhere. It left me incredibly fatigued, but it was effective.
How did you cope with everything?
It was hard being a patient instead of a caregiver. Dr. Ghosh was my advocate and kept reminding me that I needed to rest. My family and friends were a great source of strength. They rallied around me in so many ways. My husband started a CaringBridge page so we could post updates to keep everyone informed. He and my friends came to so many appointments. My friends even held a t-shirt design contest; they then sold the shirts to raise money for support.
How has your experience affected you as a cancer nurse?
It’s helped me appreciate what our patients go through and how the whole family goes through it with them. It’s also underscored the importance of our Patients First approach. The human connection we make in our office is so important. We not only know our patients, we know their kids, we hear about their pets. Our personal connection creates supportive relationships and makes treatment more manageable.
Another result of my experience is that I’ve become more of a patient advocate. I’ve learned how important it is for patients to be in charge of their decisions and make informed choices about their treatment. Having experienced cancer, I appreciate how Dr. Ghosh lays out all the options for people and provides guidance, but leaves the ultimate decision in their court.
People need that control. Cancer takes so much control away – you can’t control your appetite, your hair loss, the plans you’ve deferred. But you can control your choices about treatment, and the reality is that there’s usually more than one good option.
How has your experience affected you as a person?
Cancer has truly changed my life for the better. It’s clarified my priorities and let me know what’s important. Little things do mean the most. Cancer has taught me this. Our patients still teach me this. They make every day enjoyable and make my work at The Ghosh Center so much more than a job.