Because we offer a small, intimate environment for treatment, it is much easier to put people at ease.
The first-time chemo nurse Sarah Bamford went out on the mobile cancer care unit, she knew immediately that it was what she wanted to do. Currently she works as a bank nurse at Cheltenham Hospital when needed, but she regularly spends one day a week on ‘Helen’, the unit that travels between sites in Stroud, Cirencester, Cinderford and Gloucester. And although Sarah has tried to scale back her volume of work over the years, especially since undergoing a hip operation this year, she says that whenever her boss needs her to do extra shifts, she cunningly knows all she has to do is mention the unit, and Sarah will be there.
Although the team try to discourage patients becoming too dependent on individual members of staff, Sarah says in such small groups it is inevitable that patients and nurses get to know each other very well.
“They do get comfortable with each other and the patients going through long-term treatment will especially get to know the staff well. They will always ask about how their families are doing and will be aware of any weddings, births, graduations or major life events,” says Sarah.
Even the smallest of things can make a difference to the overall experience on the bus. With many people being fearful of needles, Sarah says even that experience can be made easier by building up a rapport with a small team. “Working in such a small team it is easier to become familiar with patients and as you get to know them it becomes easier to work out how to distract them and get them to relax. All these things add up to making the overall experience as stress-free as possible,” says Sarah.
It is the mixture of psychology and science that Sarah loves about working as a chemo nurse. The longest treatments on the bus can take over two hours with the shortest at around 15 minutes for an infusion or injection.
“No matter how well-meaning and helpful people can be it’s hard not to feel guilty about taking up so much of someone else’s time,” says Sarah.
“And you really don’t want people undergoing this sort of treatment to be starting out on the back foot.”
The best feeling for Sarah about working for the team is when people say: ‘Thank you for making the experience so stress-free. I won’t be dreading the next time now.’ However busy the shift has been, that is enough to send her home with a spring in her step.
“I feel like I have really been able to help and that’s really down to the environment we are able to provide,“ says Sarah.
She is a firm believer that the more comfortable and the more at ease people feel, the more they will be able to tolerate their treatment. Sarah says: “It makes sense that if they are feeling in a better place mentally, they are much more likely to achieve a better outcome.”
“She is so confident I will always say yes if they need support on the mobile unit because she knows I really love working on it,” says Sarah.
“The atmosphere we create on there is just fantastic. For people going through a tough time, it’s a much more intimate atmosphere than a hospital.
“Don’t get me wrong, the level of care we provide in NHS hospitals is excellent and I would never knock that, but the mobile units really come into their own when it comes to chemo sessions.
“Because we offer a small, intimate environment for treatment, it is much easier to put people at ease.
Sarah says she has witnessed many strong friendships being forged on the bus. “As their treatment progresses, patients see familiar faces. They like the continuity with the nurses and the driver.
“It quickly becomes a place where they can have a chat about absolutely anything and everything and people might be surprised to learn that the talk is rarely about cancer.”
Sarah says the mobile units are particularly useful for men who can sometimes find it hard to open up and talk. “Somehow in a small environment, like the bus, they do seem to find it easier to strike up a conversation.”
“Obviously you have to be technically competent to administer the chemotherapy, but the other half of the job is also offering reassurance if people are anxious or distressed and the unit provides a perfect, gentle backdrop for that.
Recently the difference the bus makes to people’s lives really hit home when she met a patient at the Stroud site.
“Neither the patient or her husband could drive so until then she had been relying on neighbours and friends to take her to hospital,” says Sarah.
“It’s a big ask all the time, not just because of the driving involved but effectively those people helping out also have to hang around waiting for the home journey too and that could be hours”.
When the patient arrived at the bus in Stroud, with her husband, Sarah could see straight away that they were in a good place.
“They live nearby so asking someone just to take them a short distance and drop them off was so much easier.