Cindy Moldan, OCN, said last week that treating cancer patients has more good days than bad; “There are a lot of hugs here, a lot of laughter because we really get to know these people at a really difficult time in their lives.”

Cindy Moldan, OCN, said last week that treating cancer patients has more good days than bad.

“You can have some of your highest days here, but then have low days if a treatment isn’t going well for someone,” she said.

“There are a lot of hugs here, a lot of laughter because we really get to know these people at a really difficult time in their lives.”

Before coming to Redwood Falls, Terri Tabor, OCN, worked at a much larger hospital, and quickly learned to appreciate the differences at a smaller hospital.

“When I worked at a larger facility, I’d never see the patients again,” she said. “Here, we might already have a relationship (outside of work). It could be a friend, a co-worker, or someone I go to church with.

“There are a lot of silver linings in this job. It’s really cool when you can help people walk the walk.”

The RAH infusion room is capable of treating four patients at a time, “so we can personalize the treatments,” said Tabor. “Sometimes it gets quite lively in here; the patients talk to each other and show a lot of support for each other.”

Thanks to the latest technology, these days more cancers are curable than ever.

Tabor said, “Cancer isn’t a death sentence any more. It’s regarded as more of a chronic condition. But when people come to us, they’re in a stressful situation. They’re scared.

In addition to not being an automatic death sentence, a cancer diagnosis can often have hidden blessings.

“Often something good comes out of it in terms of relationships,” said Tabor. “Maybe a parent and child haven’t talked in 30 years, but when the mother is diagnosed with cancer, the child will want to talk.”

The Redwood Area Hospital infusion room opened its doors in 1991. Administering cancer care is only part of its job. In addition, non-cancer patients visit the infusion room for blood, antibiotics, and any other sorts of IV medications.

As medical technology changes, the use of an infusion room in every hospital increases. According to Moldan, the RAH infusion room was responsible for 1,800 visits from patients in 2014.

Moldan and Tabor are among up to four OCNs available at the Redwood Area Hospital Cancer Care Center, part of the infusion room. Registered nurses who get substantially more training in cancer treatments become OCNs (oncology certified nurses).

OCNs don’t just administer chemotherapy, they teach patients and their families how to administer it when necessary.

“We spend a lot of time educating patients,” Moldan said.

OCN nurses deal with far more than the patients themselves, also.

Tabor said, “We spend a lot of time with the families. Sometimes the patients are less then 50 percent of the job.”

The average age of patients at the RAH Cancer Care Center is between 62-80 years old, which Moldan said is a change from just 15 years ago.

“It used to be, you’d never use chemotherapy for anyone over 70 years old, because there weren’t any good anti-nausea medications available.”

OCNs also help patients manage the common side-effects from chemotherapy, such as canker sores in the mouth, fevers, fatigue, nausea, and numbness in the fingers and toes.

“Surgery removes the tumor, and focuses on that one spot,” Moldan said. “Chemotherapy is like a bath; it bathes the entire body.”

Moldan emphasized there is no single chemotherapy regimens for all patients, given the bewildering variety of treatments available today.

“Some patients might come in for only a shot. Some might come in for 30 minutes, some for six hours.... The days are very, very individualized,” she said.

Most chemotherapy patients have already gone through some form of surgery, but again, there’s a lot of ‘it depends’ involved.

“Today, some patients might have chemotherapy first, then surgery, some come in after their surgery, some need no surgery at all,” Moldan said.

Some forms of chemotherapy go home with the patient in the form of an implanted port and a pump that administers the chemicals at a steady pace over several days.

However, one of the most important supports the nurses give patients is simple encouragement.

“We try to help them get through the chaos, not just during treatment, but the days afterward, with the follow-up care,” said Moldan.

With the latest medications, nausea is a much smaller side effect for many patients than before. The traditional weight loss associated with chemotherapy is less common than before.

“Some patients will even come in and say, ‘I gained weight!’” said Tabor.