The Lady with the Lamp

Florence Nightingale laid the foundation of modern nursing

Florence Nightingale, who died 100 years ago this week, is popularly remembered as “the Lady with the Lamp” (from her habit of making rounds at night), who did heroic work nursing wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. But more significantly in terms of medical history, the greatest achievement of this remarkable woman is the solid foundation she laid on which the modern profession of nursing could be built. 

And where would we be without our wonderful nurses? While our oncologists and breast surgeons get the credit for saving our lives, the oncology nurses are sometimes forgotten. And yet, they can play such a vital role in bridging the communication gap that can sometimes exist between doctors and patients. I know this was true for me with my own dedicated breast care nurse, Marina. All I can remember in the midst of the confusion of that day I was told I had breast cancer, was the comforting presence of Marina in the background. It was she who took my hand as I stumbled from the consulting room, in shock and confusion, and gently explained what was happening. She was there for me to interpret the medical jargon, when it confused me and to offer support when I was frightened and overwhelmed. I will always be grateful for her comforting and reassuring presence. And now that I am part of a nurse-led follow up clinic at the breast unit of the hospital I attend, I am also grateful for the time and attention I get from the team there. 

Each year I give a talk to trainee oncology nurses at the UCD School of Nursing, and when I tell them of my personal experience of my being diagnosed with cancer, I always finish my talk by telling them how vital the role they can play in easing the shock and confusion of this experience for patients. Just like their founder, Florence Nightingale, these dedicated nurses carry on the noble tradition of lighting the way – a light through the darkness and fear of a cancer diagnosis.