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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Showcasing the ‘invaluable’ role of Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialists

Northern Trust patient Catherine Nicholl, and Nurse Michelle Reid.

Pictured (left) Northern Trust patient Catherine Nicholl, and (right) Nurse Michelle Reid.

“No one wants to go through a cancer journey but with the support of people like Michelle, it is possible to get through it.”


As we mark National Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist Day on Friday 15 March, a Northern Health and Social Care Trust patient has provided a moving account of the care she received during her treatment for skin cancer.


Catherine Nicholl, from Jordanstown, was introduced to Clinical Nurse Specialist Michelle Reid at Antrim Area Hospital following her diagnosis in 2019.


Earlier this month they had their final appointment together, which Catherine described as a ‘bitter sweet day’ in light of her experience.


“Whilst I am over the moon that I am at the end of the journey in terms of my treatment and care, I am going to miss the reassuring presence of Michelle in my life," she said.


“I first met her in March 2019 after my diagnosis. It was a frightening time for myself and my family but Michelle very quickly became a calm port in the storm. She talked through all the procedures for us and helped us understand each step in the process but her greatest value was the time she took with us.


“We were never left feeling rushed when we met her and she just let us talk. A cancer diagnosis can leave you very lonely and alone. Particularly in the early days you meet so many different medical professionals, rarely the same faces, and it can be overwhelming.


“Friends and family often do not know how to react and you can feel you have no one to talk to.  Michelle listened to my fears and let the tears fall. Meeting regularly and being checked over was also reassuring for me in the months and years after the surgery.


“The continuity of having the same person to talk formed what felt like a friendship. I am grateful for the surgeon and the nursing staff whose care I was under, but, for me, the most important person in this whole process has been Michelle.

"She listened, gave professional advice in a personal and understandable way and most importantly it was clear she cared.  No one wants to go through a cancer journey but with the support of people like Michelle, it is possible to get through it. Her service was invaluable and I will be forever grateful.”


For Michelle, who has been a CNS for the past seven years, supporting patients is what’s most important to her:

“I love my role, and although I discuss and offer advice regarding diagnosis and treatment, what matters most to me is working closely with patients and their families, and showing them that you care at such a vulnerable time in their life.


“I am passionate about effective communication, and being able to listen to patients and establish a connection allows me to build trust which is really important, especially during difficult conversations.


“I see the patient not as a diagnosis but as a whole person, with family and friends, hobbies and interests, and I focus on this as we build our relationship throughout the patient journey.”


In 2021, Michelle and her colleagues in the skin cancer team received UK-wide Macmillan Excellence Award while last year they were runners-up in the Northern Trust’s Chair’s Awards.


National Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist Day was established to showcase the role, and the important role it plays as part of multidisciplinary team committed to enhancing cancer care.


As the key worker for patients with a cancer diagnosis, they act as a point of contact from diagnosis onwards for patients, families and carers.


They actively encourage the promotion of health, health protection and prevention of ill health by empowering people to make choices and take responsibility for their own health decisions and behaviours and offer vital support so people can manage their own care where possible.


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