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Paediatric nurse fought own cancer battle

SINGAPORE — After caring for cancer-stricken children for more than 25 years, nurse manager Rohana Ismail was herself diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer last year.

Paediatric nurse fought own cancer battle

Nurse manager Rohana Ismail, who has worked in a paediatric ward since becoming a registered nurse in 1989, was determined to continue working even after her cancer diagnosis. Photo: Koh Mui Fong

SINGAPORE — After caring for cancer-stricken children for more than 25 years, nurse manager Rohana Ismail was herself diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer last year.

What kept her clear-headed and stoic throughout the course of treatment was the wish to continue working with young patients at the National University Hospital (NUH).

The 48-year-old first detected a growth in her right breast in December 2015. She saw a doctor four months later when it got bigger, and was diagnosed after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.

Mdm Rohana began 12 weekly doses of chemotherapy in April last year and underwent another course of the treatment from July to August last year.

In September, she underwent surgery to remove the cancer from her breast and had radiotherapy for 30 consecutive weekdays. She has since completed her treatment.

Her battle with cancer has increased her empathy for young patients, said Mdm Rohana, a nurse manager at the Viva-University Children’s Cancer Centre at the NUH who has two sons aged 14 and 17.

“Now I understand better (what) they go through, because it’s actually very painful, even though we may think it’s just chemo and that it’s nothing,” she said. “Eventually when the aching starts — like what I’ve gone through — you can imagine it’s even more terrible, given that their pain threshold (is much lower).”

When she encountered an adolescent patient who refused chemotherapy because of side effects such as hair loss and pain, Mdm Rohana related her own experience to the patient’s mother, who was able to convince her child to go for treatment.

“I shared with (the mother) how to motivate (her) child, how to follow up with the treatment, and now she’s doing very well,” she said.

Mdm Rohana, who has worked in a paediatric ward since becoming a registered nurse in 1989, was determined to continue working even after her cancer diagnosis.

“I find that, in life, you don’t stop just like that. There are a lot of things I can do for the children, a lot of things I can share with the children,” she said.

She worked three days a week while undergoing chemotherapy, overseeing the hospital’s preparation for the Joint Commission International accreditation, an international stamp of excellence for clinical practices in patient care and safety.

“My treatment was only on Fridays, so I just needed to take a break until Monday for an extra day of rest, and then I worked from Tuesdays to Thursdays,” she said.

Supportive colleagues helped to ease her workload, while her family helped out at home.

After her experience with illness, Mdm Rohana is as determined as before to “protect the kids” under her care.

“When my patient recovers, when they (receive) good service, when they seek treatment, you name it … those are what I like most about my job.”

 

 

 

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