The Experience of Being an Oncology Nurse

Jennifer Kakuske, RN, is an oncology nurse with the UW Carbone Cancer Center. She shares her thoughts on why she is thankful for the amazing patients for whom she cares.


Jennifer Kakuske, Oncology Nurse with the UW Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer CenterWhen I was asked to write about why I'm thankful I am an oncology nurse, I never thought it would be so hard to put the thoughts that run through my head every day onto paper. The experience of being an oncology nurse cannot be described by one single adjective or even one story for that matter.


Our job is to heal on many different levels with patients and with loved ones whether they are family or friend. The problem is that healing does not always mean curing. That is when it can be trying and tough.


People always ask me how I don't get too attached. The answer is that it is impossible not to. You meet people at one of the most dire times in their life and you help them get through it. You don't know how you do it, but you do.


There are so many things that I see in daily life that previously had no meaning to me, but now they trigger memories about patients that I cared for. For example, when I'm channel surfing and come across Wheel of Fortune on TV, I think of my patient that planned all her medications, treatments, and meals around Pat Sajak and the show when she was in the hospital. It was important to her and made her forget all her problems for those thirty minutes. Sometimes I even sat with her as she tried to solve the puzzles and blame "chemo brain" on her wrong answers.


I have met so many great people that do not deserve a cancer diagnosis, but they fight with a tenacity that I have never seen before. They radiate a feeling of hope that cannot be measured, and anything I can do to help them makes me a stronger person.


They make my problems seem so easy. I have been there for bad news, good news, and all kinds of news in-between that can help or hinder treatment. Whatever I can do to make someone's day a little bit better is what I take home with me at the end of the day. There will always be sadness, so I try to concentrate on the small things.


I truly enjoy being an oncology nurse. The most fulfilling moments are those times when I can ease a patient's concerns, answer their questions, or simply be there to listen as they experience the ups and downs of cancer treatment. Sometimes this means cutting their hair into a Mohawk before we shave their head for the first time, helping control the pain that they never thought would go away, suggesting foods to eat when it's the last thing on their mind, or any of the numerous other things that are important to cancer patients.


Cancer patients are a special population of people. Since becoming a nurse, I have met many incredible individuals, many of whom I still keep in touch with today. I also carry with me memories of patients that have passed, but will be with me always. Every patient I care for is someone's mother, father, uncle, cousin, friend, etc. and I treat them as if they were that to me.


On a personal level, I have witnessed my own family members lose their battles with cancer. What gave them strength during those difficult times was receiving the dignity and respect that they deserved. With this in mind, I try to extend this same quality of care to each one of my patients. I don’t know if I've really answered the question why I'm thankful for what I do, but I know that helping people is the most rewarding feeling, and for that I'm thankful.


About Jennifer Kakuske, RN


Jen Kakuske graduated from UW-Madison School of Nursing in May 2004. Since graduation, she has worked at UW Hospital and Clinics on B6/6 (Hematology, Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplant, and Palliative Care). She currently resides in Madison with her husband, Travis, and their dog Lily.