A cancer diagnosis brings with it a whirlwind of emotions, information and medical appointments – and having someone guide you through those early days can make all the difference.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Andrea Reilly has been helping cancer patients navigate these often complex pathways for almost a decade. Her dedication as Cancer Nurse Coordinator for the West Coast DHB led local surgeon Jamie Mosher to nominate her as Health Hero, saying Andrea is solely responsible for local cancer patients having a seamless journey.
Andrea is humbled to have receive the award, describing it as a “privilege” to support patients through a difficult time in their lives. The 52 year-old’s decision to become a nurse stems from her own trauma 20 years ago when her seven year-old son, Jesse, passed away from a rare brain malformation. At the time, medical staff at Christchurch Hospital encouraged her to enroll in nursing to put her skills to good use.
“While it was a very difficult and heartbreaking thing, there were a lot of things I learned caring for Jesse that I didn’t want to go to waste. I wanted something positive to come out of it. The empathy, understanding and skills that I developed have become part of my nursing skills.”
Andrea moved to the West Coast after graduating because it was one of the best places to get comprehensive nursing training. She initially worked in district nursing, general practice and urology services before taking on the brand new Cancer Nurse Coordinator role in 2013.
“As people go through their diagnostic and surgical or medical care pathway, we walk along their journey and help them. The role is designed to improve equity so people who have low health literacy, multiple comorbidities, live rurally, or are of an ethnicity that do poorer in cancer care, can receive better support.”
At any one time, Andrea guides approximately 20 people through the early stages of cancer diagnosis through to treatment getting underway. She liaises with medical staff and support organisations all over the country to arrange everything from travel funding to transplant waiting lists, home help, psychology services, physio and anything in between.
“Because we are a small population, I don't decline referrals,” she explains. “I’ll work with people as much or as little as they require to get them set up and understanding things. You can be a health professional and still not have a knowledge of what’s going to happen to you as a patient on your cancer care journey. I’m there to help the person to understand where they are and what’s going to happen next.”
She regularly visits patients at home so they don’t always have to be the ones who travel. People can feel more comfortable in their home environment and more in control. It’s a better place to sit down and unpick fears, emotions and issues, but also a better place to meet families. The whole whanau go on the cancer journey and if they can all sit down and get a grasp of what they each have responsibility for, it rolls easier for them.”
Andrea doesn’t seek the limelight or accolades – she simply works hard for her patients and tries to be the best nurse she can be.
“I do take leave!” she insists. “But there’s a nursing shortage and the DHB only have so many people. So if there are things that are going to make an impact or a difference to someone, then yeah, I will come in and undertake that care and then go back off on my holiday. It’s just part of my duty of care.”