London Global Cancer Week’s Global Power of Oncology Nursing (GPON) conference came to a rich and energised close Thursday evening with its third and final session entitled “Strength in Adversity.”
The two-hour session was held in English and Spanish and co-chaired by Professor Julia Challinor a medical anthropologist working in LMIC countries globally (University of California San Francisco, US), and Celia Diez de los Rios, Oncology Advanced Nurse Practitioner and research assistant with EONS and the University of Glasgow.
The chairs opened the session with a warm, bilingual welcome to the global community of oncology nurses, with a special welcome to those joining from Central and South America. Prof Challinor then introduced Saki Narita, a nurse and cancer epidemiologist from Japan who serves as a technical officer at the World Health Organization. Saki provided an update on WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer and Breast/Cervical Cancer, highlighting how these cancer initiatives can serve as integrated models for learning and scaling approaches to tackle other cancers and non-communicable diseases. She likewise emphasized the vital role of nursing and nursing perspectives in each of these programs, particularly as cancer emerges as an increasing global health priority. The presentation was followed by a brief question and answer session between Saki Narita and Roberta Ortiz, a Medical Officer (Childhood Cancer) in the division of UHC/Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases for WHO.
Our attention then turned to the situation in the Caribbean with an engaging presentation from Lucy Pope Mars on ‘Conflict and other disasters during Covid-19 and oncology nursing’. Her talk focused on the challenges and tribulations faced in nursing and cancer care in St Vincent & Grenadines in 2021 as COVID-19 coincided with an outbreak of dengue fever and a volcanic eruption in April of this year. While the financial, emotional, physical, and mental toll has been significant for patients, families, and healthcare workers alike, oncology nurses have been pillars of strength in adversity, remaining in place providing patient care consistently throughout changing circumstances.
The final portion of the day focused on mental health during COVID-19 in adult and pediatric oncology. First came María Lourdes Ruda Santolaria, a psychologist and psychotherapist, who discussed the mental health of adult oncology patients in Peru throughout the pandemic. Her thorough discussion of the many impacts that COVID-19 has had on cancer patients health and well-being was underscored by the voice of a patient, who offered a powerful testimony of his own experience in these past years. He said “Sometimes being the protagonist of a disease like this makes us travel to a world of fear and uncertainty, where only those of us who unintentionally get this train ticket know how hard it is; where a deteriorated health system, involved in bureaucratic procedures, creates an uphill road and without any contact we sink further.”
“What this pandemic has achieved is to aggravate the situation of vulnerable diseases to a situation of emotional, social and health fragility, where time stopped for many, where dates were postponed, diagnostic tests were delayed, vital treatments were suspended, both Chemotherapies, such as radiotherapies, were postponed for dates that for many of us were distant, they were endless days and in the worst of cases these dates never came for some.”
After this moving testimony, Lourdes concluded by stressing that psychological support is a right and a necessity for providing comprehensive support to oncology patients, particularly given the increasing stress and burden faced in the wake of the pandemic.
The last, corresponding presentation came Maru Barrera, a clinician scientist at the Hospital for Sick Kids Toronto, Canada. Maru’s presentation ‘The Mental Health Effects of COVID-19 in Paediatric Oncology in Canada’ highlighted the changes in providing mental health care for children and the increased use of telehealth services over the pandemic. She highlighted both the positive elements (increased digital literacy among children and parents alike, adaptive, and creative approaches to using digital tools by providers) and the challenges being faced (disparity in access to telehealth and digital technology, not only in LMIC countries but also in countries such as Canada due to widespread inequality). Maru’s presentation was followed by a brief but rich discussion between the two speakers about paths forward and the importance of mental and psychology aspects of oncology care.
The session was wrapped up with comments from Prof Challinor and Celia Diez de los Rios, praising all the nurses and presenters for their strength, persistence, fortitude, and resilience despite increasingly difficult circumstances and emphasizing the power of global solidarity between nurses in these uncertain times. The GPON conference closed with two powerful videos from oncology nurses in Brazil and in Syria. These videos, along with recordings of all three days of the GPON conference, will be publicly available online beginning next week online on the Global Power of Oncology Nursing website.
The conference has been endorsed by a range of organisations including host organisations UKONS, The Royal Marsden School, along with ICPCN, SIOP, AORTIC, ISNCC, CNMF, AONS, ecancer, Macmillan Cancer Support, UKSACC and the Teenage Cancer Trust. There are also a range of sponsors including Roche, Leo, Merck Serono, Paxman, Rosemont, Takeda, Incyte and Braun.