For one week each year, nurses in the United States are recognized for their dedication to helping others. This event is called National Nurses Week, which is May 6-12 this year.
Unfortunately, it’s only one week. Nurses are superheroes in human form, and they deserve year-round recognition. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has increased our national appreciation for nurses. In the mesothelioma community, our gratitude never wavers.
Nurses are vital to helping mesothelioma patients understand their cancer diagnosis and receive treatment. The victims of this cancer don’t just rely on nurses for medical expertise — they also lean on them for comfort and emotional support.
This profession can be physically and emotionally exhausting. There’s a lot of heartbreak in nursing — because the ending isn’t always happy. Not every patient gets better. This fact is especially true for mesothelioma, which is an aggressive cancer that often withstands chemotherapy, radiation and other therapies.
Around 3,000 Americans each year die of mesothelioma. Most of them had a nurse who did everything possible to help them. They had a nurse who felt like they didn’t do enough — even though that’s not true, not even close.
Nurses accept the emotional burden that comes with people’s lives being in their hands. They take this on in emergency rooms, hospitals, cancer centers, physicians’ offices, home health care services, outpatient clinics, nursing facilities and schools.
They do this because they’re brave enough. That is no different at Mesothelioma Guide.
Honoring Our Nurse: Jenna Campagna
Jenna Campagna (Karen Ritter is our current nurse practitioner and patient advocate), one of our patient advocates, is our on-staff registered nurse with nearly a decade of medical experience. She speaks to mesothelioma patients and family members every day. About their diagnosis. About treatment options. About how to pay for medical care. About their emotional and mental struggles.
“Many times, people feel like their world has been turned upside down and they don’t know what they need or where to begin,” she said. “I try to let them know that knowledge is power and they can get through this difficult time with me by their side.”
Jenna pledges her professional life to help victims of mesothelioma in any way possible. She’s with them every step of the way through treatment, and even further. She’s their teammate, through all ups and downs.
The job comes with a heavy emotional toll — the highest of highs and lowest of lows — and Jenna takes it on because she wants to help people. Because, at heart, she’s a nurse. She’s one of the bravest people we’ve ever known and an embodiment of everything it means to be a nurse — and why we have a National Nurses Week.
“People’s strength and perseverance to push through difficult times allows me to not only encourage myself,” Jenna said, “but instill this mentality in others as well.”
We at Mesothelioma Guide want to recognize the tireless effort that Jenna gives every day to her job. We also want all our readers to get to know more about this superhero. Below is a Q&A with Nurse Jenna about her professional background, inspiration for becoming a nurse and more.
If you’d like to speak with a patient advocate, you can email Karen Ritter at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is dedicated to helping people affected by mesothelioma and ready to provide whatever support she can. Thank you to Jenna, Karen and all other nurses, for everything you do.
Our Conversation With Nurse Jenna
Mesothelioma Guide (MG): You have nearly a decade of medical experience, most of it as a Registered Nurse. What was your inspiration for becoming a Registered Nurse and medical expert?
Nurse Jenna: Growing up, my father was an emergency room physician and he used to bring me to work so I could sit at the nurse’s station. I was always fascinated by the fact that these doctors and nurses could find out the root cause of someone’s problem. I saw it as detective work and wanted to become a medical expert so I could help people too.
It wasn’t until my teenage years that I became one of these patients and had to travel across the country to find out my diagnosis and treatment options. This also led me to wanting to become a medical professional.
MG: What aspects of being a Registered Nurse bring you the most pride?
Nurse Jenna: Three aspects stand out to me:
- Knowing that I can ease someone’s mind by educating them
- Supporting someone during the scariest time of their life
- Empowering someone to make an educated decision
MG: Your Registered Nurse experience started with pediatric care. You continued as a school nurse, and then director of nursing services, at a school for children with disabilities and developmental delays. What led you to childcare and being a Registered Nurse in children/adolescent settings?
Nurse Jenna: While taking some prerequisites for nursing school, I worked as a paraprofessional at a school for children with disabilities and developmental delays. I was always drawn to this population and had a passion for helping others who couldn’t necessarily advocate for themselves.
I always said to myself that one day I would be a school nurse at this school, and that dream came true. The Director of Nursing at the time became my mentor and guided me in the right direction.
MG: What were some of the most fulfilling aspects of working with special-needs children?
Nurse Jenna: It was so fulfilling to see children work to their full potential. I was their advocate and served a population most people don’t understand. I also took a lot of pride in educating parents on the medical needs of their children.
MG: You joined the Mesothelioma Guide staff five years ago. What inspired you to want to help people with mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases?
Nurse Jenna: That same philosophy of wanting to help others who couldn’t necessarily advocate for themselves by having a rare cancer. You don’t know where to turn when you are diagnosed with something that not many people have. I wanted to be the person who people turned to.
MG: How would you define your role as a mesothelioma patient advocate?
Nurse Jenna: I would define it in three ways. I provide:
- Honest, educated advice
- A friend (guardian angel) you never knew you had
- Unbiased listening ears
MG: What is your daily routine as a patient advocate and Registered Nurse? Do you work a typical 9-5 schedule, or does this job require more flexibility?
Nurse Jenna: Working behind a website, I am on-call seven days a week. That said, it doesn’t feel like a job to me. If I can put someone’s mind at ease or guide them in the right direction to where they can make a decision or feel safe, then that is what matters. I strive to be available on weekends and sign on to LiveChat during the week between phone calls and sending emails so that I can answer questions immediately.
MG: How often are you in contact with patients or their family members throughout the process of finding treatment or financial help?
Nurse Jenna: My goal is to be with the patient or family member through every step of their cancer journey. Initially, I am usually listening and gathering information on the patient and their diagnosis. I then listen to see what they are in need of. Many times, it is making sure their current medical team is educated enough to treat their diagnosis. If not, then I am putting them in touch with a specialist. If they are unsure about surgery or what treatment options to pursue, then I try to educate them on the pros and cons of each and empower them to make a decision.
After deciding on a treatment plan, I like to provide invaluable resources like support groups or ways to help pay for treatment or lost wages. A lot of folks don’t realize that I can help with these resources. I want new patients and families to know that they do not have to go back to the web to search for information; they can use me as their guide for anything related to the diagnosis.
MG: How important is it to have a medical background and be a Registered Nurse to be an effective mesothelioma patient advocate?
Nurse Jenna: A mesothelioma diagnosis is not easy to understand. I often get physicians in other fields saying this to me, too. It is an intricate diagnosis and you need to understand the entire body since it can affect the two main body cavities: thoracic and abdominal.
Since there are limited treatment options, it is also important to stay up to date on experimental treatments and how those novel drugs work. I find myself still learning about this diagnosis even after five years of working with this population.
MG: What are some of the regular challenges you face as a mesothelioma patient advocate and on-staff Registered Nurse?
Nurse Jenna: Not being able to put a hand on someone’s shoulder or hug someone who I know is suffering. I am a big proponent of human touch and sometimes that feeling doesn’t get translated through the phone or by email.
MG: Is there an experience that you’re most proud of from your time as a patient advocate and Registered Nurse at Mesothelioma Guide? What were some of the details behind that and why does it still resonate with you?
Nurse Jenna: A desperate wife reached out to me from Costa Rica. Her husband had recently been diagnosed with metastatic malignant mesothelioma of the peritoneum with possible metastasis in the chest, lymph nodes and pericardium. The doctors in Costa Rica told her to find a specialist, and they didn’t know where to go. Luckily, she found me and I was able to email with Dr. Marcelo DaSilva, who was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston) at the time, about her husband’s case. After a few months of chemotherapy, the family traveled to Boston for life-saving surgery. She emailed me a year and a half later telling me her husband had clear scans and that she would be forever grateful for my guidance.
MG: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of being a patient advocate and Registered Nurse at Mesothelioma Guide?
Nurse Jenna: When I get an email update from a patient who went through surgery and chemotherapy and they now have a clear scan — the joy that comes to me is unlike anything else. I also take comfort in knowing that I provide a sense to hope to most patients and families.
MG: What does National Nurses Week mean to you, both from your personal experience and titles, and for all nurses in general?
Nurse Jenna: Can we ever thank nurses enough? This question came to mind this morning when I remembered it was National Nurses Week. Many of my nursing colleagues are on the frontlines dealing with COVID-19. This week is just a way to honor those selfless superheroes who put their lives on the line every day to protect their fellow communities.
We go into this profession wanting to make a positive impact, and I am grateful we can do that in such uncertain times.
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