For Patients

Behind Every Great Oncologist Is a Great Oncology Nurse

Categories: Cancer Management

February 6, 2018

Behind Every Great Oncologist Is a Great Oncology Nurse

Oncologists get a lot of the limelight in a cancer patient’s care--and for good reason. If you talk with most cancer patients, however, you might be surprised to find out that it’s actually their nurse--not their oncologist--who they have a closer relationship with.

Since doctors must focus their patient time on identifying, treating, and managing the cancer, a nurse can take the time to ask questions about home life, side effects of the cancer treatment, and how to increase a patient’s overall quality of life. This consistent, one-on-one involvement is often why patients share most information with their oncology nurse rather than their oncologist.

Nurses like Nila Quinonez and Laura McFall.

Nila, an RN, began her career in nursing 28 years ago at the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. When Quinonez moved to Virginia, she didn’t want to give up the experience of working in a large, innovative cancer center that offered national cancer clinical trials and high standards of care. She was delighted to find that Virginia Oncology Associates (VOA) fit the bill, and that several of the doctors there had also come from Memorial Sloan Kettering. Eleven years later, Quinonez now works on Dr. Dean McGaughey’s team, which focuses on hematology, head and neck tumors, and bone marrow transplants at our Lake Wright office in Norfolk.

Quinonez, who spends hours each week with her patients as they undergo treatments, values those in her care and feels that “It’s a privilege to travel this journey with these patients at this time of their life when they’re putting so many things into perspective.”

Because she is bilingual, Nila is often called to translate when there are patients whose primary language is Spanish. Not only is she able to explain diagnosis and treatment options, she is able to put the patient and their families at ease. Many times, she does this for patients even if they aren’t part of her specific practice area because she knows that the communication is critical for patients to feel comfortable and to have the best standard of care.

Across town in our Chesapeake VOA satellite office, Laura McFall, RN is the nurse on Dr. Stacey Rogers’ team of gynecological oncology professionals. Her career began locally on the cancer floor at DePaul Hospital then moved into research at East Virginia Medical School. When her research was complete, she found a spot at VOA and has been here for more than 20 years.

McFall is excited to see how far cancer diagnosis and treatment has come in the past two decades, including robotic surgery, immunotherapies, and cancer genetic testing. Her lengthy career has provided her with numerous opportunities, but when she was offered a nursing supervisor position a few years ago, she ultimately turned it down.

Her reason? “I just loved the patient interaction, and I didn’t want to leave that. I always look at patients and think: ‘What if that person was my mom or dad? How would I want them treated?’”

Currently, she is working with a young mother with two small children. For the patient, getting her kids onto the bus in the morning and then trying to get herself to treatment is exhausting. McFall set up the patient with Lee’s Friends, a nonprofit organization that offers cancer patients a variety of free services including transportation. What McFall saw as a small effort on her part went a long way for a young woman struggling with cancer and family life.

It’s nurses like these that help our patients get the best care possible.

Oncology nurses may not spend much time in the spotlight, but for their patients they are a trusted resource, a friend during hours of intense therapy, and a cheerleader for their progress.