“Looking forward, remaining hopeful, assimilating all that we have learnt, and being creative help us as oncology nurse work towards a better future” – Highlights from Day 2 of the GPON Conference

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Day two of the Global Power of Oncology Nursing (GPON) conference, held as part of London Global Cancer Week, demonstrated the resilience and creativity of oncology nurses around the world.

Throughout the 2 ½ hours of the conference, we heard from nurses around the world, working in the most challenging of situations, alongside the challenge of oncology and Covid-19. Presenters came from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran and India and covered a range of issues in the care of both adults and children in oncology, clearly demonstrating the conference theme of  “Celebrating Oncology Nursing: Compassion, Innovation and Strength”. 

The session was chaired by Prof Julia Downing, Chief Executive of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) and Nikki Morris, Chief Executive of Camden Age UK. In opening the day Prof Julia shared some of the key points from the first day of the conference, and encouraged us as Oncology nurses to share together and learn from each other. A recording of Elizabeth Iro’s presentation from day one, was shared with delegates. As the Chief Nursing Officer for the World Health Organization she reminded us that better health for all means investing in nurses, and thus the importance of the Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery passed at this years World Health Assembly which focuses on education, leadership, jobs and service delivery.

Mohammed Asif Hussainyar, Board member of the Afghanistan Nurses Association and the Afghanistan Nurses and Midwives Council shared with us about the situation for nurses generally in Afghanistan at the moment – living in times of political and economic turmoil and uncertainty, with the closure of healthcare facilities, loss of jobs, inflation and poverty. His recommendations to all of us were to never stop advocating for nursing in whatever situation we are in and that we as nurses can make a difference. As participants at the conference, we were all standing with the nurses in Afghanistan and committed to seeing how we can support them.

From Afghanistan we moved to Lebanon, with two presentations from oncology nurses in Beirut. The first was from Rima Saad who is a clinical nurse specialist for paediatric oncology. She is currently studying for a PhD in Nursing Sciences at the Hariri School of Nursing, American University of Beirut, focusing on paediatric palliative care. She shared the results of her literature review on primary caregivers knowledge, attitudes and beliefs towards palliative care for children with cancer. She looked at the barriers and enablers to the provision of children’s palliative care for healthcare professionals and parents. The literature review identified a better understanding of knowledge, attitudes and beliefs towards paediatric palliative care, areas for improvement, the importance of primary caregivers views and key areas for future research. It also focused on the views of health care professionals and there is a lack of evidence from family caregivers, especially from low- and- middle income countries (LMICs).

Janane Hannah, working at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre in oncology and palliative care, then discussed conflict and other disasters during Covid-19 and oncology nursing. Lebanon in the past has been known as having the best healthcare system in the region, but things are changing and the Beirut Blast last year was a tough day for the country, and has impacted further on the care being provided. This along with Covid-19 has led to poverty, migration of healthcare workers, limited availability of resources and limited availability of essential medicines and chemotherapy, including pain medication – where once opioids were available, now it is a challenge to access them. In sharing the rollercoaster experiences of oncology nurses many challenges included lack of security, they were frustrated, they were not protected, they were sad and obsessed with keeping safe. Yet their resilience and strength came through as they talked about being proud to be a nurse, maintaining realistic hope, and celebrating the work of nurses. 

After the break, we heard from Shahnez Salimiyanrizi from Iran and Aayushi Khaneja from Inida. Shahnez works within ICU and has been the ICU Covid-19 nurse, leader and manager and Shariati Hospital in Tehran. She looked at the impact of the pandemic on cancer screening and starting treatment. Again she demonstrated that despite the challenges, Iranian nurses were showing strength – they were able to adapt the care that they provided during the pandemic to ensure that the people their cared for could access the care that they needed – protocols were reviewed and adapted due to the pandemic, there was shortage of medicines, and there was a need to recommend re the provision of vaccinations to those with cancer. 

Aayushi shared her experience of working in the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre in Delhi, with children with cancer. In particular she focused on moving forward and overcoming all odds, and childhood cancer survivorship. She shared the experience of the Centre, the importance of addressing survivorship and ensuring that not only did children ‘survive’ but they ‘survived’ well and had a good quality of life. 

In her summing up Nikki Morris highlighted the importance of addressing the whole continuum of cancer care from screening to survivorship or end of life. identified several themes from the morning including: resources, nurses being at the centre of care provision, the environment in which we work, new learning, education, how we share the learning, the team approach and not working in isolation, and remaining hopeful. Oncology nurses around the world are looking forward, the are accommodating and being creative to work together towards a better future. 

In 2021 GPON wanted to recognise and celebrate oncology nurses from LMICs who have made a difference during the pandemic – who have demonstrated compassion, innovation and strength. Thus, Prof Annie Young announced the following awards, sponsored by UKONS:

  • The GPON Rising Star award for nurses in LMICs who are early in their oncology career, but have demonstrated exceptional nursing-related practice, education or leadership. This award went to Shenila Anwarali who until recently was working at Indus Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan
  • The GPON Outstanding contribution to Cancer Nursing in LMIC award: a project or piece of work which has made a difference in a LMIC or in a region/ area where there is concern. This award went to Ma. Cecelia P. Paje from Makati Medical Centre in the Philippines 
  • The GPON Master of Nursing award for senior nurses who have been working in cancer nursing in LMIC for some time. This award went to Biemba Kahalu Maliti who works at the University Teaching Hospitals – Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia

In closing the days session Prof Julia echoed some of the sentiments from participants about connecting with each other, collaborating and supporting each other, to try and help encourage and inspire oncology nurses around the world, to look at how we can provide continuing education. Participants commented on how much they had enjoyed the session, it had been really eye-opening and difficult to see how nurses are suffering, and how this suffering is mirrored in many countries. Sarah Renaud, a participant from … said “What has stood out to me from these presentations is how unified we are as nurses in our dedication to patients and their families. I am amazed at the obstacles you are overcoming to continue to care for patients.” 

The conference continues on the 18th November and will be available in English and Spanish. For more information and free registration go to the GPON website. Despite the challenges the overriding feeling from the day was one of nurses showing compassion, innovation and strength.

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.

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