Once a nurse, always a nurse

Brooke Aghajani
Oncology Lifecycle Leader and former nurse

No two people diagnosed with cancer experience it in the same way. Here, Brooke Aghajani shares her first-hand experience of working with patients who are navigating a cancer diagnosis, and how this informs her work at Roche.

Nursing was not a profession I considered when I finished my undergraduate degree, I was sure I would go into law or something with an international bend. This changed when I spent a few weeks volunteering at an in-patient psychiatric unit. Although I was only there for a short time, it was a defining moment in the course of my life and career. I loved the interaction with patients, and discovered nursing brought together two things I have always loved: helping people and science. I decided to get an advanced degree in nursing, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I worked as a nurse for eight years before joining Roche and spent much of that time with people who had been diagnosed with haematological cancers. Stem cell or bone marrow transplants offered these patients their best chance of cure, but the intensive treatment experience really highlighted to me how the way in which someone receives treatment can often have a significant impact on their lives, in and out of the clinic.

The journey from diagnosis through various stages of therapy is challenging and intense for patients at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. As a nurse, it is an unearned gift to get to know your patients and their loved ones very quickly and intimately. The nursing team would feel a deep sense of responsibility for each and every patient’s experience and we would strive to become our patient's best advocates.  

As a nurse, I spoke to patients about all aspects of their lives – their loved ones, their work, and their hobbies. It can be challenging when their disease stops them from carrying on with their normal everyday activities. Hearing what patients are fighting for makes us, as nurses, allies in this fight.

A patient of mine, Celeste, was around the same age as I was when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). We were really close. She was a determined and spirited young woman who didn't easily bow down to her disease. After her transplant, I told her that she needed to be careful, but that didn’t stop her from rollerblading from her car to the clinic everyday, as that’s what brought her joy. It made me so nervous, but she embodied the “joy of living” even as she was dying. In the end, she made the right choice to do the things that brought her joy with the time she had left.

 As a nurse, it is important to listen to patients to truly understand their needs. Some patients, like Celeste, want to minimise time spent receiving treatment so they can go out and enjoy life. Patients with busy lifestyles, especially if they struggle with travel to a hospital or a specialist care facility, may prefer to receive treatment in a primary care setting. Others feel reassured seeing their care team frequently and find comfort in spending time discussing their care plans and receiving treatments. Healthcare teams should approach each patient as an individual and tailor their treatment pathway to suit their diverse needs and preferences.

I initially joined Roche as an educator, delivering training programmes on our medicines to doctors and nurses. Having first-hand experience as a nurse helped me tailor the training to address real-world scenarios that nurses encounter daily. While I have since had multiple roles throughout the organisation, listening to nurses has always been critical to understanding what patients need.

Currently, I am dedicated to transforming the treatment experience for people with cancer. My team and I are working to increase the number of administration options for patients, so that there is a choice of different options for how and where to receive treatment depending on the individual needs. As we further our research, we are also collaborating with patients and nurses and regularly seeking their valuable feedback. 

My hope is that we can help more people to have the best possible experience while navigating this disease. If we work together, we can make a real difference for people who need it the most.

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