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September 6, 2017

Introducing…a pediatric oncology nurse

Jillian Sheehan is a registered nurse on the pediatric oncology unit at McMaster Children’s Hospital. She has worked at Hamilton Health Sciences for five years.

What do you love most about your role?

I love that I am given the opportunity to be inspired every single day at work. I get to care for the brightest, most courageous and fascinating children and families each day. Although my role involves being part of the emotional roller coaster which comes with a cancer diagnosis, I consistently leave work with a greater appreciation of love shared between families in difficult times.

What do you find challenging?

Unfortunately, not every child wins their battle with cancer. It is impossible not to develop relationships with these children and their families, and we grieve their loss deeply. I often have a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that, not only have their families, but our world as a whole, lost these special children. These children are so often the type of people we need more of in this world, but cancer takes them too soon.

I think this demonstrates just how far we have come in both the treatment and supportive care of children with cancer.

Describe a typical day

First thing in the morning, I typically look at the labs of all my patients to determine which ones will need blood product transfusions. Then I sneak into their dark rooms and stealthily do a set of vital signs and administer medications while they are snuggled in bed with their mom or dad. We have rounds with our entire oncology team at 11:30 daily, where we get to discuss our immediate concerns for each patient and work together on coming up with a plan to achieve short and long term treatment goals. After rounds, I take back any new information to the families and ensure they agree with our plan. The rest of the day involves carrying out whatever needs to be done, like administering chemotherapy, to reach the treatment goals for the day.

What is most gratifying about your role?

I am so proud to be part of this phenomenal pediatric oncology team. Everyone is so incredibly skilled at what they do, and they stand behind these children and their families every step of the way. Thanks to their enormous dedication, no child or family in our program is ever left to fight alone. I find that incredibly gratifying.

What would people find most surprising?

My days are usually upbeat and happy! When I tell people I am a pediatric oncology nurse, most respond with, “oh that must be so sad all the time,” but that really is not the case. If you walk onto our ward any given day, you will likely see children riding bicycles through the halls and playing cool games with our amazing volunteers and camp staff. I think this demonstrates just how far we have come in both the treatment and supportive care of children with cancer.